1.13.2007

HH Com Rd 2 #40 (588)

hook here


Potatoes don’t like the light when they’re growing. They hide under the mulch like nests of little eggs, clean and white, unless the sun gets in and turns them green. I’d seen one peeping out so it was time to heap more mulch over them.

Hard physical work is good for numbing. Every now and then I have a day where the memories explode inside my head like long-delayed depth charges, so loud that they deafen me to the whole world. When Connor tapped me on the shoulder I nearly knocked him out, flinging my fist straight back, hitting him in the upper chest.

‘Shit, Judi! No wonder the kids steer clear of you.’ He held my fist and only let it go when I jerked it away.

‘Creep up on me like that and you’re lucky you’re still alive.’

‘I called your name three times. Didn’t you hear me?’

‘No.’ I’d made a grubby mark on his neatly ironed, pristine police shirt. ‘What do you want?’

‘A cuppa would be good. Some of that coffee you keep for special.’ He tried to make a joke of it but the smile wouldn’t stay on his face.

The sweat soaking my Tshirt went cold. ‘What’s up?’ I said. ‘Come on, spit it out.’

‘Can I have that coffee first?’

‘Fuck.’ I dropped the spade and headed for the back door, slipping off my gardening shoes before I stepped into the kitchen. Connor followed suit. He knew better than to wear shoes in my house. I boiled the kettle and dug out the very expensive coffee I kept for special occasions, focusing on the simple tasks, measuring the coffee precisely and filling the pot exactly to the number two line I’d drawn with a black marker.

Connor sat at the table, fiddling with a pen, flicking it open and shut until I glared at him and he put it down.

I poured the coffee, splashing a long streak of grainy brown liquid on the table, and pushed the milk towards him. ‘It’s Andy, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘What – he’s been arrested again? I don’t know why they bother.’

My brother had been a drug addict for more than ten years. I only found out about five years ago when he needed money so desperately that even I was a possibility for a loan. As if he’d ever pay it back. I didn’t give him the chance. I said no. Later, I discovered that his girlfriend was a junkie too. They didn’t have a hope, not together.

Connor cleared his throat. ‘Judi – Andy’s dead. I’m sorry.’

‘OD, was it?’ My voice came out sounding cold and distant.

‘Um, no. He – ’

‘Don’t tell me. The ultimate irony. Car accident.’

‘He – they said he was murdered.’ Connor looked like he was expecting to have to take me in his arms and comfort me. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

‘Murdered. Who did it? Or is Andy going to be on next week’s Crime Stoppers?’ I wanted to stop this cold, dry voice coming out of my mouth but I couldn’t. It was like listening to my father all over again, and I shuddered. Connor’s hand crept across the table and grabbed mine, holding tightly, feeling warm and human. I gripped him back, hard. It kept me from leaping up, shouting and screaming and smashing everything in the kitchen.

‘They’re pretty sure it was a small-time drug dealer, a Vietnamese guy that Andy was seen at the pub with. The knife, well, it had the guy’s prints on it.’

‘Drugs, again. It had to be that, didn’t it? Jesus fucking Christ, why couldn’t he kick it once and for all? Why couldn’t he – ’ Finally the cold voice failed, stopping midstream, dying. Hot tears rolled down my face and dripped onto the table.

Connor tried to stand and come around the table but I held my free hand up, stopping him. He sat again, his face full of pain. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said again.

‘Yeah, me too.’ I wiped my face on my Tshirt, then blew my nose on the nearest dishtowel. ‘So they sent you to do the dirty work, did they?’

‘This is my area, but yes, the boss thought it would be best if I came.’ Connor was part of a small force policing a huge geographic area in central Victoria.

'Well thanks.’ I sniffed and blew my nose again.

Connor looked away. ‘There’s something else. I said you wouldn’t want to, but the guy in Melbourne. He wants you to go down and identify Andy’s body.’


Well, this is all set up and backstory.
It's not bad writing (in fact, it establishes character very nicely) but I'd really like to start when it gets interesting-her arrival in Melbourne to discover things weren't what she thought.

HH Com Rd 2 -# 39 (361)

hook here

Mom always acts extra sweet before she tells me big news. One Saturday last summer, I woke up to find her offering to make me anything I wanted for breakfast. This is weird, I thought, it’s not my birthday. Still, I accepted her offer. “I know it’s August, but can I have oatmeal?” I asked.

I love the goopy, heavy taste of oatmeal. Plus, my Grandpa once said, “You never know what a day’s going to bring, so you’d better meet it with a full stomach. Oatmeal does the trick.”

After breakfast, I was clearing the table when Mom said, “That’s okay, Jessie. You don’t need to help.” Normally she would’ve said, “When you’re finished with the dishes, could you go clean up your room?” which isn’t really a question. It’s an order. This time Mom didn’t ask or order. I had no idea what was coming, but I knew it was big. Three long hours passed until I found out what it was.

(start here)
I was sketching a cat with kittens when Mom appeared at my door. “Jessie, Dad and I have something to tell you. Let’s go in the kitchen.”

Uh, oh.

The last time Mom brought me to the kitchen, it was to let me know Grandpa had died. The time before that, we went to the kitchen so Mom could announce she was having twins.
This time I suspected that what they were going to tell me was not only big, but bad—more of a Grandpa dying-type of news than the twins coming-type. So on my way, I stopped at my favorite place in our apartment—the Big Window. With no time to look at the action on the street or to peep into the apartment across the way, I reached out to give the Big Window a quick touch, for good luck.

Dad was sitting at the table, staring into space. I sat across from him. Mom poured herself a glass of ice water and sat next to me. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her forehead. She nodded to Dad. He cleared his throat. “Uh, we have some news—about Mom.”
Mom squeezed the tissue in her fist. She took a deep breath. “I have to report to Fort Bragg in two weeks, for training. I’ve been called up to serve in the war in Iraq.” She reached for her water and took a big gulp.

“She won’t actually be fighting,” Dad said quickly. He covered my hand with his. “She’ll be a translator, like she is here. They need her Arabic language skills to help our soldiers communicate with the Iraqis.”

He smiled like the twins did when they were babies still learning how: kind of a lop-sided half-smile. Mom put her elbows on the table and rubbed her eyes with her palms.
I pulled my hand out from under Dad’s to wipe it on my shorts. Since my thighs were sticking to the chair, I put both hands underneath them. I took my parents’ lead and pretended I could handle this.

“For how long?” I asked, as if they’d told me Mom was going to visit Grandma.

“Hopefully no longer than a year,” Mom answered.

I gasped. It felt like someone had kicked a soccer ball into my stomach. I calculated in my head. Mom would miss my whole sixth grade year, my twelfth birthday, the beginning of seventh grade and everything in-between.

“A year? That’s so long,” I whispered.

No one answered. I heard the sounds of the city outside: someone whistling for a cab, a far-off siren.

“Why, Mom? Why do they have to bring you all the way from New York to help people talk to each other? Don’t they have translators in Iraq?”

“Honey-”

“What about the twins?” I continued. “Who’ll wash their hair? What about Sky? A parakeet doesn’t understand. And what about me?” My voice cracked. So much for the good luck touch. I wanted to break that Big Window in a million pieces.

“Jessie, let me explain. You know I’ve been in the Army Reserves. I didn’t think it would happen, but I made a commitment to serve if our country ever went to war. With 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…. Well, Dad and I knew I could be deployed, but we hoped–” She swallowed. Then she whispered, “You never think it’ll be you.” Mom dropped her head. Her tissue lay shredded on the table.


This needs some editing but it's not a mess by any means.
I'd do it.
I'd probably take this entire manuscript and copy edit it and hand carry it around to every editor in town cause I think kids need this book.

This is why I think that: 1200 kids have lost a parent in Iraq/Afghanistan ...so far

One of the great things about being in publishing is you can help get books into print that people really really need. Not just prescriptive books, but stories that help you sort out how you feel and make you understand why you feel that way.

I can't end the war in Iraq. I can't do much to help kids who have lost a parent, particularly their mom, in that war. I could do this though. And I think just about any agent in town would feel the same way.

HH Com Rd 2 -#38 (325)

A Tajistan Love Story, humorous novel (hook here)

Jason pulled into the parking lot a few minutes past eight and swore when he saw the rusty station wagon -- Tumba’s station wagon. Tumba would be waiting in the lobby, and if Tumba or any of his ever-accompanying brothers and cousins saw him, the day would be ruined. Luckily there was a backdoor.

He walked around to the back of the large office building and saw the morning group of smokers. He nodded hello and punched in the door code--a code supposedly known by only the landlord and the security guards, but common knowledge among anyone who smoked or parked in the back lot.

Jason climbed the stairs to the fifth floor, the back door to the International Community Center. Aliya and Borris were standing on the landing, drinking black coffee from clear glasses. When they saw it was Jason and not the landlord, they pulled out their lit cigarettes hiding behind their backs.

“Dobro yutro.”

“Zdravo,” replied Jason.

“How was the wedding?” asked Borris.

“It was good,” said Jason opening up the back door. “I wish I was still there.”

“Of course you do,” said Aliya in a heavy Bosnian accent. “There are a group of Meshketian Turks in the conference room waiting for you. They have been camped out here for the last few days.”

“Abdul couldn’t help them.”

“Don’t be foolish,” said Aliya. “Abdul can’t even keep track of his own people. They are mad about something. You also have someone waiting for you in your office.”

Jason forced a grin and stepped into the back hall, avoiding the lobby and the conference room.

Walking into the small office he shared with Abdul, he saw a man wearing a dark suit with a briefcase. The man had brown skin and Asian features. He looked like someone from Central Asia, the region where Jason had lived as a Peace Corps volunteer less than a year ago.

“Jason Landers. I am from the Tajistan Embassy. There is an important matter we need to discuss.”

Jason’s thoughts swirled in multiple directions. What was someone from the embassy doing here in Boise? Had someone died that he knew? Did they find out about the hundreds of pirated CDs and movies he snuck out of the country?

“What do you need to talk to me about?”

The man opened his briefcase and handed Jason a letter bearing multiple official stamps and signatures.

“I am here regarding the unpaid taxes you owe the country of Tajistan.”

“I thought we didn’t need to pay taxes while living in your country.”

“You were wrong. Any income made while living in Tajistan is taxable. I have brought the regulations if you would like to check.”

“This is ludicrous,” thought Jason. “I got paid $150 a month as a volunteer and now they want me to pay taxes on it.”

It was also bad timing. He only had $17 left in his checking account after spending all his money on the trip last week. His mom could probably loan him the hundred bucks or so he owed and he could pay her back.

“So how much do I owe you?”

“Fifteen million seven hundred thousand Tenge, which is roughly equivalent to five hundred thousand U.S. dollars.”

Daniel stared at the man in disbelief and then a smile came across his face.

“I get it now. I send Alex a letter from the D.C. Health Department saying his name came up in a syphilis contact investigation, and now he is sending me one of his friends claiming I owe half a million dollars in back taxes. He told me at the wedding he was going to get back at me. Are you even from Central Asia?”

“Mr. Landers, this is no prank. The government of Tajistan never jokes about taxes or the esteemed president Tajimbav.”

The admiration and hint of fear in his voice for President Tajimbav immediately told Jason the man was in fact from Tajistan. Tajimbav was considered a god in Tajistan and a comical lunatic by everyone else outside of the country.

This is really over written. You spell out everything (he walked, he opened, his thoughts swirled).

The essence of comedy is the unexpected twist. There's nothing unexpected here cause you've spelled everything out like it's a road map or a daily briefing.

You had a great line in the hook that indicated you know how to write unexpected things. Find your inner pratfall. This ain't it.

HH Com Rd 2 - #37 (579)

hook here


Tonight I stuffed tissue into my ears and went down below to watch the engine of the boat. It is a big engine, an inline 6-cylinder diesel painted red. It's bright red and so loud that you can feel its sound through your shoes. Down below in the engine room, conversation is impossible. There was a lone crew member wearing nothing but an old pair of corduroy shorts and a pair of large earmuffs, watching a panel of lights for instructions from the pilot in the wheelhouse. There is an intercom system on the boat but the engineer only gets lights.

The boy glanced over at me as I sat down in a chair near the engine but he quickly returned his attention to the panel of lights. The sound keeps our worlds separate even though we are only a few feet apart. Few things can give such isolation as a constant and deafening noise and because of this, the engine room is a good place to think.

I should also mention that the engine is almost constantly running. It is installed, started, and then rarely shut off. Even in port, while cargo is loaded, this engine is often running, and while underway, it runs at speed for days at a time. The noise and vibration are such constants that when the engine is shut off, such as to make a repair or adjustment, the mood on the boat turns to apprehensive excitement. Children stop sleeping and begin crying. People who are usually content to stick to an isolated routine, seek out others and trade gossip in groups of former strangers. A boat without its engine running is a stressed environment and, like during finals week at college, you are more apt to meet new people during this period than at any other time.

It is rare these days, for any one outside of industry to have any experience with a one-hundred-percent duty cycle machine. Perhaps the closest thing would be a refrigerator, but even this does not run constantly. If you left the door open, it would not be long until the compressor overheated and stopped running. But the engine on this boat, like many other things that are now hidden from our daily lives, will not stop to rest. It will run and run and run and run until it is dead, and then it will be replaced. And when chains are attached to it and it is hoisted out of the engine room, it is doubtful that it will be placed in some museum to be preserved. The captain may walk by and spend a fond thought on the engine. The engineer will certainly lower his eyes a little as the engine is carted away, for engines have personalities that can at least compete with dogs in complexity. The engineer will wonder what the new engine will be like. It will take a few months of operation before he is completely comfortable with it and knows the meaning of its hiccups. The old engine will not be forgotten nor will it be remembered. The crew of the boat is too intimately related to this engine to go about preserving its memory with formaldehyde and plaques. (this paragraph is very good)

This tendency we have to preserve is interesting and I wonder if it's not Marta's reverence for ruins that hinders us. The tourism industry transports us from grave to grave but they are the tombs of strangers. The remains awe but the connection is lost in the preservation. Our past is a museum piece and we are not allowed to touch it or breathe into it or use it to make something new. We do not seem to know our own past as intimately as the boy in the corduroy shorts knows that engine. We put plastic over the fine old furniture and never know its texture.
The engineer stood up from his perch by the instrument panel. He reached over to the backside of the engine and made an adjustment with a small wrench and sat back down. I wondered if Ford really thought history was bunk. I opened my journal and made a note to remember to ask him.


ok, here's your slow start with nothing happening. It's also got a very good paragraph tucked in there that reminds me a bit of John McPhee or Paul Theroux.

There was an interesting idea in this hook; I'd read the first five pages to get a sense of whether the writing stays compelling. If if did, I'd read a partial. At that point though, you're going to have to cough up some compelling action.

HH Com Rd 2 -#36 (518)

Hook here


On the urn downstairs someone's stuck up a newspaper clipping.

UFO SIGHTING ON NULLARBOR

In a place like this, you always have to wonder--has someone put there for a joke, or to share information? I make myself a cup of tea and take it into the dining room. Neil the nightshift supervisor is smoking next to the open window.

"Who put the thing on the urn?" I say.

"What thing?"

"The UFO thing."

Neil looks at me like I just insulted his mother. He stubs his cigarette out and stalks off into the kitchen. He's sort of sensitive about anything to do with UFOs. No one knows why. One of the residents probably stuck up the clipping to get at him. He probably thinks I did it.

"It wasn't me," I call.

Mutter mutter.

"It wasn't!" Everyone blames me around here. Maybe because I'm the youngest, and the newest. That's what I tell myself, but really, it's because I'm the King Midas of bad luck. I pour out rice bubbles and milk. The rice bubbles looks just opened, but someone's taken the toy out of it already. Neil comes back in and burns the news article in an ashtray right in front of me.

"Lighten up," I say.

He just glares. Okay, so he has no sense of humor, but I knew that.

"Someone was moaning upstairs," I tell him.

"Fuck off." But he fucks off himself to go check. I pull a finger sign behind his back.

After I finish my breakfast I retouch the line I've drawn in blue pen around my wrist. Then I fix up the red pen around my other wrist, and the green and the black on each of my ankles. I know it looks nuts, but I've been on the straight and narrow for five months, so I'm not messing with any of my charms.

Shell necklace, check.
Charm bracelet, check.

Next, I check all the charms in all my pockets, even though I checked three times already before I left my room. I keep forgetting if I really did have my Ace of Spades in my other pocket. Not forgetting, exactly, but just not trusting. I'm sure it's there, but how can you *know* for sure? That's hard to explain to people, because most people are very sure about
everything. They do something, and it's done. They don't doubt it. I doubt everything.

Neil comes back and lights up a cigarette, watching me. It makes me nervous, so I go out on the front porch. Lurch is there, standing under the roof-bit, his duffle coat buttoned up to under his chin. We call him Lurch because his name is really George and there's two Georges. So George 'Lurch' is the big fellow who lives 16 hours a day (sometimes more) on the front porch; and George 'Orwell' is the skinny codger with the fetish about hidden cameras in the light fittings. George Orwell doesn't live here any more. But that's another story. I sit down on the top step and check my stuff without negative karma supervisors.

"You going to the clinic?" asks Lurch.

"Yeah. In a moment."

Paper rustles as he notes this fact in his notebook. Lurch takes his notes very seriously. As seriously as I take my charms. Neil's replacement arrives. Neil leaves. I want to leave, too, but I
still can't get my charms straight in my head. Two more residents leave. I'm out of time.

"Hey, Lurch. Did you see what I just did with the Ace of Spades?"

"You put it in your pocket, there."

Independent verification. I'm still not sure, not knowing-sure, but if I miss my appointment I'm sunk. I decide to walk in, even though the bus is free this close to the city. Buses in peak hour are full of business suits who cram away from me like I'm infectious. They can sense I'm bad luck.

When I arrive in the city centre most shops along the Hay Street Mall are still closed, and office workers are still homing in on the Terrace like abductees toward a spaceship. I've got a few spare minutes. I know I should go straight to the clinic, and wait for it to open. I know I'm
dangerous left to my own devices.

While I dither on the street corner, I'm attracted to the shiny posters in the DVD store near me.

This is the point where I fuck up.


This is all set up.
Nothing REALLY happens.
Of course I want to read on.

The reason this works is that the writing (which needs a good polishing) is vivid. We have the sense here that there is impending doom, and we get confirmation early ("this is the point where I fuck up"). The uncertainty of "what's going on here, who are these people" is GOOD.

The hook made it sound comical, but this doesn't sound comical at all. It sounds like we're inside the head of a functioning fruitcake. I'd read a partial on this to see how it works, but I'd have an eagle eye on that synopsis for plot.

HH Com Rd 2 - #35 (614)

(hook here)

...Hey Magic-man...

I turn the fan down soon as I hear him, but all I catch is my name.

Great. Just fricking great. If I turn the fan off with all this wet snow coming down, the car'll fog up in ten seconds; if I leave it on, sure as shit he'll say something important.

I turn it up, and he comes in loud and clear:

...her hair sweeps across my face and I smell it: cinnamon. She smells like cinnamon right there, under her heavy hair, at the nape of her neck...

"Je-sus...!" I groan. "Give it a rest, will you?"

But no, he just keeps going and going and going, like the Ever-ready fucking bunny:

...can't go by a tray of cinnamon rolls at the bakery without thinking of her. God, I love her more than life itself. I know, I know, it's a hopeless cliché, that's what she always says, laughing at me, but deep down I know she loves it when I say those romantic, teenage death-song things...

A big yawn catches me, and I look at my watch. Christ, only ten after? How did Burnsie ever stick it out in Surveillance all those years? I've never been so bored in my life. Doing this day in, day out? I'd rather stay on Patrol. Using an old napkin I pull out of the garbage bag, I wipe the fog off the front window, searching the sky for lights. Nothing but snow, coming down like it's the dead of January, not mid-April. Just last weekend, I was fertilizing the lawn--but in the past hour, we must've got two, maybe three inches. Driving home is going to be a bitch. Then it hits me: the goddamn storm probably delayed the plane. I could be stuck here for hours.

...love to make her laugh, like wind chimes...

"Wind chimes?" I hoot. "Give me a break! You sound like a fucking Hallmark card!"

...so shy, Magic-man, you wouldn't believe it. When she blushes, she hides her face behind her hand, like a fan...

"Speaking of fans...!" I turn it on full blast and punch the cigarette lighter.

Where the hell are my cigarettes? I know I chucked the pack on the dash after lighting my drive-home smoke, but the only thing up there besides gum wrappers and a pack of Dentyne is my wallet. Then I remember: after I got off shift, Laurie borrowed my car to go get milk. She must've taken them, the bitch. Because I forgot the milk. My hands tighten on the steering wheel. She's damn lucky I'm stuck out here and not back there at home.

The drone in my ear pulls me back. I strain for a second, but it's just blahblahblah, nothing I can make out. I know it's more of the same crap, but after a couple of minutes, I gave in. Just in case.

...Forget thinking, forget everything but her...

"Boy, I'd sure like to forget her...!" The craving for a cigarette's so strong I drum the steering wheel in frustration, teeth clenched. I turn the fan back to low, look at my watch for the twentieth time, wipe the window again. Only a couple more minutes. Maybe I can run in, buy some smokes before we leave.

I dig out a piece of gum and stick it in my mouth. Ten seconds later, I buzz down the window and spit it into the snow. Fucking sugarless crap.

...Whoa--it's here. This is it, Magic-Man. Showtime...

I whip the fan off, holding my breath. There's a hiss in my ear like a kettle coming to the boil, and

Oh please, please, God, DON'T--!

the blast rocks me backwards and I claw at my ears oh shit oh Christ it feels like someone's taking a fucking chainsaw to my head--! Somebody's screaming, everything grinding together, razor-edged and hideous and oh fuck it hurts it hurts--

"He's coming around-- Sir! Sir, can you hear me?"

"--sleeve's jammed in the seatbelt. Gimme the shears--"

"--ETA in five repeat five. Pupils uneven, breathing rapid, paralysis on left side, suspect cerebral accident. Have that crash cart standing by, he coded once already--"

The voices bleed away to static, nothing left but the voice in my head saying over and over

...cinnamon cinnamon Magic remember got to cinnamon remember...

till the black squeezes out everything else.



the hook didn't give us much to go on. I liked the writing. I like this writing. I'm willing to hang in there for five pages without knowing much about what I'm reading, but a good cover letter will REALLY help.

HH Com Rd 2 -#34 (231/227)

hook here


My profile on our school’s “friendsite,” www.myplace.emma.k12.ut.us, is one of my attempts to convince everyone I’m normal.

Name: Eric Wright

Age: 14

Grade: 9th, Honors Track

School: Patrick Henry Junior and online with Park City Community College.

Favorite Music: Old stuff like the Cars, Queen, and Idlewild. Current stuff like Narcissistic Sarcophiles and Calliope (Hey, she’s hot!). NO country western.

Favorite Movies: Old movies, especially old horror movies: Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee movies, “Wait Until Dark,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” even cheesy ones like “Casper,” “Witches,” and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”

Favorite Foods: Italian (heavy on the garlic), Mexican, steak

Favorite Clothes: polo shirts and jeans (kind of preppy, I know)

Places I’ve Lived: Chicago, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Emma

See, I’m just the all-American, boy-next-door type. A nice, normal guy...... Okay, well, not
really.
What the profile doesn’t say is that I also drink mammal blood, don’t have a shadow, and faint in bright sunlight. That’s what happens when you’re a vampire. A half-vampire, actually.

It also doesn’t say that the reason I’ve lived in so many places is because Mom and I move whenever people start treating me like I’m something out of a
Stephen King novel.

A lot of the kids have downloaded their yearbook photos onto their profiles. I downloaded a picture of Indiana Jones. A couple of girls told me that it was funny, so I’m keeping it. They don’t need to know that I don’t show up in photographs. Some of the kids even have blogs on the friendsite. I think that’d be cool, but it wouldn’t exactly help me blend in better with a blog called “True Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire,” so I skip that part of the profile.

It’s not Mom’s fault that I’m a vampire, really. I mean, she was in college when she met my dad, and she knew he was into the whole “gothic” thing: wearing black, eating raw meat, hanging out in all-night coffee shops. He told her he was a vampire, but she thought it was a joke. You know, she was finishing her degree in international business; she was too
educated to believe in silly ghost stories.

My dad apparently wasn’t too thrilled when Mom found out she was pregnant with me, so he stopped dating her and she hasn’t seen him since. It wasn’t until she gradually discovered my weird allergy to bright sunlight and how very sharp my cuspid teeth were when they grew in and that if I didn’t get about eight ounces of mammal blood every week I’d show signs
of malnutrition that she realized my dad hadn’t been living in some fantasy world.
Mom believes in vampires now. She has to; she’s raising one.

This is the prologue.
It's all set up.
It works.
It's funny, it's vivid.
Of COURSE I want to read more.

There's a 750 word limit, but the author sent both the prologue and the first chapter.

Here's the first chapter, sans comments.

Mom and I had been living here in the thriving metropolis of Emma (population 2000, except during the deer hunt, when it’s more like 1300) since I was twelve, and it’d been awhile since I’d had human blood.

But last January, things started getting bad again. Maybe it was a puberty thing. You know,
hormones. But the health textbooks don’t cover hormone differences in vampires, and since my dad was out of my life before I was even born I couldn’t exactly ask him, so I wasn’t really sure.
At the semester change, a bunch of new kids transferred into my 1st period class, and that’s when I started to notice. Actually, the first thing I noticed was Alison.

As Alison stood in the front of the classroom, waiting for Ms. Nielson, our English teacher, to assign her a seat, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her short, brown hair was scooped up into a ponytail, leaving her whole neck uncovered. Her skin was the color of milky coffee, without a single freckle or flaw anywhere. And she had on this black, stretchy choker with little sparkly beads on it. It was so tight on her skin that I could see her pulse beating through it; with each heartbeat, the beads would catch the light. Saliva swirled in my mouth. How was I ever going to concentrate if Nielson put her near me? But what if she sat behind me? Wouldn’t that be --?
There was a poke in my ribs.

“Whoa!” came Scott’s hoarse whisper from behind me, “Check those out! Awesome!”

Scott had noticed sparkling beads? This was not his style. But I just nodded.

“Yeah, amazing,” I whispered back, not turning my head much in case Nielson decided
to look up at me.

“Yup,” Scott added, “Gotta be size double D, at least. Hope Nielson puts her real close to me.”

Beads have sizes? What was he....? Oh. I glanced down a bit from Alison’s neck and figured out what Scott had been talking about. I hadn’t even noticed, but I felt myself turning darker and darker shades of red -- even though Scott had no way of knowing I’d been checking out her neck, for crying out loud. How embarrassing. But it got worse after Ms. Nielson had moved us all into new seats. Alison sat at the back, out of my line of vision, but I now sat behind Tim and kitty-corner from this guy named Michael, which was not a good thing.

The next day, I caught myself staring at the way the tag of Michael’s tee shirt was sticking up instead of down while Nielson was writing notes about the Victorian Era on the white board.

On Wednesday, when I was supposed to be finishing finding all the predicate nominatives on pages 64--65 of Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, I realized I was wondering what it would be like to touch the shaved-short hairs on the back of Michael’s neck.

Not good. Not good at all. Why was I staring at a guy? Did that mean I was gay? Crap. A gay
vampire. Like I wasn’t different enough already. I shuddered and made myself look at Britni
instead. She smiled and mouthed the words, “I hate grammar,” at me. I felt a little better.
By Friday I was determined to have one normal day. I didn’t look at Michael at all during vocabulary practice. And I didn’t check out any girls’ necks.

Life was fine. Until Ms. Nielson started handing out books.

“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, class,” she said, plopping a large cardboard box down on Britni’s
front-row desk, “we’ve been talking about the Victorian period and the genre of Gothic horror
stories.”

Nielson began passing out copies of blue-and-white paperback books. “So, I’m sure you’ve
realized that we’d be reading a Gothic horror novel for the mid-term book essay.”

Ah, so that was it! What was the book? Frankenstein would be cool. Yesterday, Nielson was
going on and on about Mary Shelley and her determination to write a more horrible story than any of her friends could. I’d seen a bunch of old movie versions, but I’d never read the book.

“Make sure you initial on the list next to the number of the book you’re checking out,” Ms. Nielson was saying as I grabbed the book that Tim passed to me.

The day instantly got worse.

Dracula.
Great.
Really great.

HH Com Rd 2 - #33 (409)

hook here

Alyssa Jackson had been practicing her dancing for over a month, hoping to perfect the extremely-casual-yet-very-sexy shimmy that would make Jordan Lenning drool over her. Which, of course, he already should have been doing, only sometimes guys needed a little help, as Alyssa knew all too well. But with only one day until Spring Fling, she was getting anxious.

“Okay, how does this look?” asked Alyssa, standing in front of her wall mirror. She shook and gyrated to the beat of Gwen Stefani’s “If I Were a Rich Girl.” It was a lame-ass song, but all of Alyssa’s good music was still packed away in cardboard boxes from the move.

“Quit looking in the mirror so much,” said Marie, sitting at the foot of Alyssa’s bed and smacking her signature cherry bubble gum.

“Fine,” said Alyssa, turning off the music. “How do I look aside from that?”

Marie bobbed her head. “Good.”

Alyssa smiled. She had known Marie was going to say that, but still, it was nice to hear. “Now there’s just the problem of what we’re going to wear.”

“I’m wearing a black babydoll dress and black leggings,” said Marie, finishing the sentence with a large, pink bubble.

“No you’re not,” snapped Alyssa. “You should never wear black to a dance. Everyone will be wearing black.”

Marie blew another gigantic bubble before answering. “Black’s the only color that makes me look good.”

“You’re not fat,” said Alyssa, carefully avoiding Marie’s eye. “I was thinking you could wear yellow, and I could wear my red halter dress.”

Marie perked up instantly. A suggestion made by Alyssa was, by definition, a good suggestion. “You’re right. Yellow would be fab on me. It matches my hair.”

Alyssa almost snorted with laughter, as this was, sadly, all too true. Last week Marie had bleached her honey-colored hair with some cheap K-mart dye, and had somehow ended up with bright yellow locks. Nothing Alyssa said to the contrary could convince Marie that this look did not utterly suit her.

“Uh-huh,” said Alyssa. “About my dress, do you think it’s too formal or anything? Too showy? Too ‘look-at-me’?”

“No way. You look like a model in that thing.”

Excellent-- Jordan already had the misconception that Alyssa had been a Pac Sun model. This was due to the fact that she had “accidentally” let it slip, and was currently in no hurry to correct him.

“Cool,” said Alyssa, gathering her straight brown hair in a ponytail and then letting it fall back to her shoulders. She turned the stereo back on and began dancing to the next song (“Kiss my shit, kiss my shit”), thinking of the different ways she could reject Jordan when he finally asked her out.


stereo??
wtf is a stereo?

by your word choice are ye busted oh author!

I liked the sprightly voice in the hook but I'd rather see something actually happening in the opening pages. This is all set up.

HH Com Rd 2 -#32 (41)

hook here.

Submission 41, 'No one Lives Here', mid-grade novel

Three weeks before school started, Sam woke up to the sound of crying.

He lay in bed, still and straight, and listened. It sounded like a hurt animal, like the baby rabbit he’d found last spring. It had been attacked by a fox or owl. Dad said there was nothing they could do. (this is a brilliant line)

He listened to the faint whimpers and moans, and knew it wasn’t an animal. It was a person, and it was coming from inside the house.

In the bunk beneath him Sam heard Jemmy snuffle and snore. His stomach clenched into a hard ball of dread. He didn’t like that sound of crying. He didn’t like it at all.

Sam closed his eyes. Maybe if he closed his eyes, the crying would go away. It would stop.
Except he knew it wouldn’t. He had a feeling he knew who was making that noise... who was so sad.

He climbed down from his bunk. Jemmy lay on top of his twisted sheets, his precious orange race car clutched in one fist. He let out a whistling snore, and Sam rolled his eyes. Jemmy could sleep through anything, as long as he didn’t wet the bed.
As he went out into the hallway Sam could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock downstairs, a car driving by outside. And the crying.

It was coming from his parents' bedroom, as he'd been afraid it would. Sunlight slanted onto the hallway carpet in yellow stripes. Even though it was early in the morning, the air was already warm, sticky.

He knew he shouldn't go in. In general, his parents' bedroom was private. He was supposed to knock, but right now he didn’t want to.

He listened, heard a faint gulping sound, and the low murmuring of his father’s voice.
Something was wrong.

Something was wrong with his mom, and had been for awhile. This didn’t surprise him, not as much as it should have.

He pushed the door open with his fingertips. He could see his mother, lying in bed, still. Her face was pale, blank, tears streaking down her cheeks. She looked as if she were made of wax... melting wax.

Sam's dad sat next to her on the bed, stroking her hair.

"Marie... please..."

Sam stared. His parents looked like strangers. They weren’t doing the normal thing he expected them to do... the thing he wanted them to do. He took a step backwards, wishing himself down the hallay, back in bed, asleep even.

Then his dad looked up and saw him. Sam froze, standing there in just his p.j. bottoms, as if he'd done something wrong. But he hadn’t. He knew he hadn’t.

"Sam, please leave us alone." His father spoke quietly, and his mother's tears kept trickling into her hair.

She turned her head a bit, and Sam could see her eyes. Blank. It was if she couldn't see him, as if he wasn’t there at all. Then she closed her eyes and turned her face away.

And still Sam didn't move.
"Sam..." Dad's voice held a warning, and his mom gave a little hiccupping sob. "Go!" This came out in an angry roar, and Sam ran.

He ran downstairs, and then outside, twisting the key in the lock and wrenching the door open.
The grass was still wet with dew, and he slipped once and got a grass stain on the knee of his pajamas. He ran across the front yard, across the driveway, the tarmac just starting to warm, and into his best friend Dan's yard.

He stopped in the shelter of trees that separated his yard from Dan's, feeling stupid. The fallen pine needles pricked his feet. What was he supposed to do now?

"Sam?" Dan's sister Sarah peered at him from between the branches. "Are you okay?"
She was dressed in running shorts and a tank top, a CD player clipped to the band of her shorts. She'd slipped the headphones off so they were around her neck and she looked at him, taking in his old, worn Power Ranger pajamas, his hunched shoulders. "What are you doing in there?"

Sam stepped from under the branches, feeling stupider than ever. Sarah was fifteen, but she seemed older than that. Next to her, in his babyish pajamas, he felt like the worst kind of little kid.

He tried to shrug, but knew he didn’t quite pull it off.

"I think my mom's hurt."


Take out everything in green. You want to keep this religiously and relentlessly in the POV of this kid.

THIS is how you start a quiet novel.
THIS is how you you can get started without setting someone on fire.
It needs a good editing but this is something I'd want to read more of.


The reason "Dad said there was nothing they could do" is a brilliant line is cause it's exactly what the kid heard, with no explanation, AND it conveys perfectly his unspoken fear that his mother is sick and going to die of this illness. It conveys perfectly the tension of the novel..and it's in paragraph two.

HH Com Rd 2 -31 (507)

Hook here

My first date with William Stocker was going so well I’d already begun planning our second. Then he attacked me with a butcher knife. Shows what I know.
“More wine?”
I smiled and handed William my empty glass. “Sure, thanks. But just a little.”
He headed for the kitchen and I watched him go, enjoying the uninterrupted view of his ass. I felt a little guilty about going back to his place after dinner on our first date but, what the hell. Mystery and restraint are overrated.
William returned with my refill and sunk into the leather couch beside me, close enough that our knees touched.
“I had a great time at dinner, Diana. I’m really glad you agreed to go out with me.” He hesitated. “Joyce made you sound a little cautious.”
I laughed. There was no way my boss, Joyce, had been that diplomatic. She’d once informed her twelve-year-old niece, without a twinge of conscience, that only skinny girls could get away with spandex. Bitch on wheels, that was Joyce.
“I admit it. I can be a distrustful pain in the ass, especially where blind dates are concerned.”
William grinned. “Totally justified. I mean, have you seen some of the people running around this city?”
“Exactly. You could have turned out to be the freakishly tall guy who spit on my shoes last week on the train.”
“I know that guy! He almost got me yesterday.”
We laughed together, hard. When the laughter faded there was that wonderful airy tension between us you only get in the beginning. William set his wineglass on the coffee table and brushed his fingertips across my cheek. I leaned into the touch and thought for a moment he might kiss me. But he retrieved his hand and said, “So what do you do when you’re not working, Diana?”
“Well, I read a lot and go out with friends, take long walks around the city, people-watching.” I took a sip of my cabernet, savoring its sweet, earthy taste. William stocked excellent wine but I was going to have to slow down. The world had begun to fuzz a bit at the edges. “How about you?”
“I study ritual blood sacrifice.”
I stared at him for a beat. There was an expectant look on his face, so it could have been a weird attempt at humor. “Did you just say blood sacrifice?”
“I certainly did.” William leaned forward, eyes fixed on mine. He put his hand on my knee. His palm was cold and damp. “For years I’ve studied the ancient art of blood ritual and power appropriation. But this is the first opportunity I’ve had to turn study into practice.”
I cleared my throat and shifted on the couch, trying unsuccessfully to loosen his grip on my leg. A few moments ago it would have been welcome; now I just wanted him to stop touching me.
“The practice?” I said. “With, like, chicken blood?”
I didn’t know if it was the conversation’s sudden swerve into Wonderland or the wine but my head had begun to feel like it was stuffed with wet cotton. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what he was saying.
“Jeez, I thought you’d be a bit quicker on the uptake than this.” William sighed and flopped back into the couch cushions, grinning widely. It was not a nice smile. But at least he’d let go of my knee.
I tried to lever myself into a more upright position on the couch but slid right back down the leather in a boneless heap. Shit.
“I’m sorry to end the evening early but I’m feeling really tired all of a sudden,” I said. “Would you mind calling me a cab?”
William’s nasty grin widened. “You’re tired because I drugged your wine. And no, you’re not going anywhere.”
“You drugged…?”
I flinched away from him and managed to haul myself off the couch. In my mind, I was running at full speed toward the front door. In reality, I stood gently swaying in my new, too-expensive high heels. William gazed up at me, from what seemed like miles away.
“It’s just a sedative to make you more manageable. Don’t worry, it won’t affect the ritual.”
“Joyce knows that I’m here,” I whispered.
“Yes, she does. Now what was I saying?” He snapped his fingers. “Oh yeah, power. It is the only thing that makes life worth living, Diana. You’ve got it in spades, and I’m going to take it from you.”

Take out everything in purple.
The "purple prose" is classic "telling" and it detracts from the narrative. You don't need to tell us this stuff, you'll show it to us by what the characters say and how they talk.

I liked this idea, the writing wasn't very zippy, but once you start ruthlessly pruning all this "tell" you'll have a good piece to show.

1.12.2007

HH Com Rd 2 -#30 (72)

hook here

Part I
Hell


The picture on the television goes out before I even hear Obie's footsteps. One moment, I am watching animated hippopotamuses caper in toe-shoes, and the next, the screen is crackling with tiny dots. When I look around, my brother is a dark shape in my doorway.

He says, "Daphne, I'm leaving soon."

"I know."

He draws back like I've startled him, but I'm not prophetic. Just accustomed to how he comes and goes, always on his way to somewhere else. He's already dressed for Earth, in denim pants and a striped pullover sweater with two different colors of gray. He is wearing black shoes. His face is indistinct, so I squint.

Down in the Pit, the furnace is off now, leaving the city dark. In the street, smoke is rising in columns from the vents, but my room is high up, so the air stays clear. The only light is flickering from the interrupted television, making everything waver. In the doorway,
Obie looks uncertain, but composed. His hands are in his pockets. I'm sitting on my sofa, wearing two kinds of lipstick and holding an Instamatic camera in my lap. The makeup feels greasy and I press my lips together.

"Here," I say, picking up the camera, waving Obie to the center of my vision. "Here, pose for me."

He shakes his head. "It hasn't got film in it."

"I know, but I want to take your picture anyway."

I raise the camera to my eye and Obie appears in the little window. He is only standing in the doorway, but suddenly, he looks very far away. I click the button, lower the camera, and he is back to normal.

When I wind the advance wheel with my thumb, the camera makes a harsh
grinding noise. "Why can't you stay?"

Against the dim backdrop of my room, with its chimes and its plastic trinkets and mechanical toys, he looks bleak, and then begins to pace. Every time he passes my television set, static flares and the light from the screen turns him blue.

Sometimes it makes him happy to see my toys spread out across the room, bright and plastic and prolific, but now, the shape of his mouth is all wrong. As he crosses the carpet, his shoes make no sound.

"Why can't you stay here?" I ask him, louder this time.

"Work to do—there's always work to do. And I'm getting tired lately."

"We don't get tired here."

"No," he says over his shoulder. "You don't."

And his face doesn't look tired exactly, but something does. Maybe it's in his mouth. Maybe I can see it there. After all, his father was an actual man, real flesh, real blood, with a soul and a heart. Virtuous. Mine used to be a star, but then he became the Devil. Our mother, Lilith, did not used to be anything. She has always just been herself, irrefutable. It barely matters that our fathers were different men. We both look like her.

"It's better when I'm on Earth," Obie says, still pacing. "People sleep and wake up again. Things make more sense there."

"And here? How is it here?"

He sits down abruptly, facing me on the hassock with his hands clasped between his knees. His mouth is so thin. The hassock is crouched on four metal feet, each one clutching a shiny metal ball, clutching so hard that I think the talons of each metal toe might snap. Sometimes,
Obie doesn't say anything and I still understand what he means.

I look at him through the camera, watching his face, his eyes. "If you hate it here so much, why do you keep coming back all the time?"

"Mom," he says quietly.

In my head, the word is like a red wound, a string pulling hard at something inside him.

He touches his mouth. "She thinks something bad will happen if I'm away."

"Will it?"

"Bad things happen all the time."

"I meant, to you."

But he just shrugs, like the possibility is remote or unimportant.

"I don't want anything to happen to you."

"I know."

We sit and look around the room, look everywhere except at each other.



This is all set up and exposition. I know I've gotten some flack for saying "set things on fire" early and some of you wonder how a 'quiet' novel can meet those flaming requirements.

You can start a quiet novel with energy and focus that sucks the reader in. Frederich Busch's great novel NORTH does it, as does Kent Haruf's PLAINSONG.

The trick is people aren't talking about other things. They are DOING things. Frederick Busch is shooting his dog (sorry KY, I know, bad bad man).

This was a GREAT hook, and maybe if there had been more than 750 words allowed it would catch and hold my interest but right now it doesn't.

Coffee, tea or synopis

Dear Miss Snark,

I am in need of some advice. During holiday travels, I met someone on an airplane who happens to be the husband of a senior editor at a decent size publishing house. We began to talk and it came up that I am in the middle of writing a novel. We started to talk about the premise and he said that his wife should hear this. After learning who she is and what she does, I wanted to cry, because the next words out of his mouth went like this, "YOU HAVE TO EMAIL THIS TO HER!"

I explained to him that I am still in the first draft stages of the book. But he pushed the issue and I didn't. So, in order not to let the contact go cold, I emailed her. She was happy to hear from me and explained that her husband had told her about the book. She said that she would be delighted to take a look, send the pitch, synopsis and first few.

I then edited the hell out of the first few and tried to get the synopsis in order and sent it out. I know that I broke the cardinal rule of not showing anyone your first draft, but I thoroughly explained to her that I am still in the first draft, but she wanted to see it anyway..my guess is that she likes the premise that I sent her in the first email.

Now I am nauseated at what I have done and hope I didn't screw up! What do you think.

My publishing history has been limited to a few literary journals with short stories..

Thanks for your help and despite what others say, I enjoy your comments and find them extremely helpful (people say they don't like my comments?? really??)



You did the right thing. When someone asks to see something like that, you work your asterisk off to polish up and send.

Now, you try your hardest to forget about this, and go back to work on the novel. The most important thing now is to finish. If La Aviatrix wants to see it all, you'll be ready. If she doesn't you'll have used the time wisely and can start anew on your search.

It always kills me when people pitch me on ideas I really like and never follow up. I'm never going to track them down and berate them, but I always wonder what the hell happened.

Greasing the skids

Dear Miss Snark,

I often read about publishing deals where the editor makes an offer in a matter of days after the manuscript is submitted, even with debut novels. Why does it take so long for most other submissions to get a response, then? (Of course, I'm talking about agented submissions, and credible agents.) It seems like with many manuscripts, the project has to be passed around to every department and a real case made for it in sales meetings, and months go by before any answer can be given. So how it is that some projects get snapped up by pre-empt or within a day or two of submission? Don't they have to jump through all the hoops, too?


First, don't believe all the breathless hyperbole you read about how a novel was bought before it had to time to be run through the xerox machine more than once. Yes, it does happen. Not quite as often as you read. There's a buzz factor here: you want everyone to think this baby is hot so you breathlessly tell PW et al how fast it was snapped up. Those stories conveniently overlook all the prep work that goes into a fast buy.

But it does happen.

It happens when an agent has a solid relationship with an editor and a house, when the agent has a solid track record of producing winners, and when the editor has enough track record to buy on her own, or without going to the sales meeting. Not often.

It also happens when an agent has more than one editor on the line and lets everyone know this is going to move fast.

1.11.2007

P&E poll

Miss Snark is getting out her Daley-planner as the new P&E poll campaign opens.

Lots of good sites are mentioned!

You gotta

There's a comment on the post about Gather.com's invitation to send pages.

If you win you have to sign a standard publishing contract.

I'm not sure, but I don't think anyone can legally force you to sign a contract. You might not "win" if you don't, but if the contract requires a kidney and Miss Snark's private telephone digits, I don't think they can force you to sign.

Also, it doesn't say you can't negotiate the deal. You read the contract, you suggest some changes, see what happens. It also doesn't say you can't have an agent, or a contract review specialist on your team.

Touchstone is part of Simon and Schuster and almost every agent in town has their boiler plate in a file cabinet somewhere. I know I do. I'd post the damn thing but it's on paper, and I'm not retyping 26 million pages for nuttin.

Miss Snark is pleased to know you too

Dear Miss Snark,
You mention that a person should never send a query to someone that they don't know. Since I don't know any agents or publishers, what's the next step? My book is complete, my synopsis is written and my query is ready for viewing. Please help.


You didn't get your invitation to the Meet the Agent Winter Frolic at Miss Snark's Ice Palace, wherein everyone meets Miss Snark and we all "gather 'round" reciting first chapters (simultaneously of course)?

ok, ok, I'm joking.

"Know" in this case means you see evidence of business activity beyond a glitzy web page or a solicitation from the agent to bypass the rigors of the slush pile.

"know about" is probably a better way to express that.

You can "know about" an agent by logging onto AgentQuery.com, by flinging yourself into the depths at AbsoluteWrite.com, poring over Preditors and Editors; by perusing Publishers Marketplace, by ogling Publishers Weekly (your library has a copy even if they don't have it on the periodicals display--you can ask for it); by reading blogs like the ones on my blog roll.

You can actually meet real live agents at writing conferences too, but you don't have to meet them to "know about" them.

The advice to not query agents you don't "know about" is to help you avoid agents who haven't sold anything and charge you money. It's business advice, not a social nicety.

Crapometer Clone...with a Prize!

So, you thought reading all 650+ hooks for the crapometer didn't burn your retinas quite enough? You're in luck!

A quick skim of the contest over at Gather.com didn't reveal how many entries they'd take, so maybe it will be a manageable number. On the other hand Sobol got 1000 and those folks coughed up $85. Here, there's no entry fee, and Miss Snark isn't hurling invective. Imagine they get 3000 entries. Who the F is going to read all 3000 FIRST chapters (2-10 thousand words no less!!)??

All these contests ignore the pretty solid evidence of the slush pile: there's a lot of crap writing out there and agents have figured out what they need to do to get past the chaff quickly. Yes there are good books we miss, and certainly good books we can't sell, but THIS contest isn't set up to find them either.

I'm going to be very interested to see how the voting works. Do you just say "yes this is good" or "no this is crap". Go back and look at the Crapometer entries to see if that standard works.

This is a subjective business. Slush pile survival is not a democracy.

And if you think the president of Touchstone is reading any of these, you're sorely mistaken. Myopianna the intern will be at her desk from dusk to dawn taking care of that little chore.





several of you sent me the link to this circus, (thank you!)
but my favorite email was:

"Good morning, Miss Snark.
I’m feeling alone and need a mob to join.
Any thoughts on this contest?
Thanks."

1.10.2007

Miss Snark flicks your dic

You know how much Miss Snark loves Satan..well, when the Devils Dictionary (publishing versions) turned up again here and here, Miss Snark felt the call of the brimstone as well.

Herewith:

A is for Agent. There is a reason A leads the pack. Agents are the top of the heap.

B is for Barnes and Noble. Noble barns full of coffee swilling readers and the occasional buyer whose demand for rotating stock, low prices and new merchandise is largely responsible for the death of the midlist, the demise of indie bookstores, the death of authors, the odd lightning strike, the massacre in Rabbitania, and the deaths of all bunnies and kitties this month.

C is for Costco. Fewer readers, steeper discounts. Otherwise, see above.

D is for Dog. Dogs are the new reading aids in schools. Every school should have a dog.

E is for Eclectic. Eclectic list means an agent can't figure out what s/he's good at selling.


F is for Foreign Rights Sales. Foreign Rights sales means all trips to Europe are tax deductible.

G is for Galley. Galleys are when you find out the author has thanked her nail technician for being a good listener (cause she only speaks Vietnamese) and her hair stylist but not her agent.

H is for Histrionics. Histrionics are what ensues when author discovers editor is a nitwit and editor discovers author is a nitwit and agent knew both were nitwits and wishes them on each other.

I is for Invoice. Invoice is what Miss Snark would like to send to editors who say "just send it to me" to everything and have bought nothing from her for five years.

J is for Jitney. Jitney is also the get away car, used to flee the scene of the grime on summer weekends.

K is for Kill Fee. This is the fee Miss Snark pays to the Franciscan Friars everytime she plans your murder. Or your editor's murder. Or your suicide/murder.

L is for Libel. Libel is calling Miss Snark nice, kind or any other actionable word including but not limited to "sweet, darling, gentle, melodious, sugary or lovable".


M is for Motion Picture Rights. Motion Picture Rights are useful for giving authors hope of making more than lemonade stand wages in any given year.

N is for Net Income. Net income is how crafty publishers acquire intellectual property for no money down, and no money ever.

O is for Out of Print. Out of print is when the publisher won't print any more, can't find any more in the warehouse, and still lists the book as "on backorder" so the rights don't revert.

P is for Printer's Errors. Printer's Errors are always the reason the agent doesn't get thanked in the acknowledgments.

Q is for Qualifications. Qualifications for agents include the ability to listen to complete and utter bullshit from authors, editors, publishers, clients, publicists, bookstore event managers, and writing conference organizers with a totally straight face.

R is for Remainders. Remainders cause hissy fits in authors and require therapeutic applicants of Motion Picture Rights balm; also a display of Agent Qualifications.

S is for Suggested Retail Price. By printing a SRP on the actual product, it is what makes sure when quantity is limited a bookstore can't do the logical thing and raise price. Ignore all lessons you learned in Econ 101: Microeconomics.

T is for Thesaurus. Thesaurus is where authors find 101 ways to say "said".

U is for National Writers Union. The Writer is right. The agent is wrong. The publisher is wrong. Always.

V is for Vetting. Vetting done by the Smoking Gun gets you on Oprah.

W is for World Rights. World Rights are generally those demanded by small publishers with no distribution who print books in their basement and sell on the net and are sure they are going to strike it rich.

X is for Xmas. Xmas is a one day holiday that requires all of publishing to shut down for two weeks, and "ease back into work" for another five days.

Y is for Yea. "Yea" is the phrase meaning "I understand everything you say, the irony of it in relation to my question/answer, and we should indulge is some meaningless flirting soon". Coined by Aaron Sorkin.

Z is for Zoroastrians. Zoroastrian's funeral rites involve rapacious creatures
consuming the corpus of dead people. See also: Literary heirs.

Whither U

Miss Snark,

Whenever I read up on query letters online, I only feel trepidation. The letters I've seen referenced to say things like, "I have an MA/PhD/highest degree EVER in writing, I've gone to a prestigious writing program, I've published in magazines," etc. etc. etc.

As for myself, I haven't even graduated high school yet, let alone grabbed a Masters in English at Harvard.

So my question is this: how much of an influence do the credentials, experience, age, etc. play as opposed to the actual writing? Is the fact that I am not even legal yet going to act detrimentally in any way for me?


None. I look at your writing.

If you've got good publication credits (not a fancy degree, not a fancy job, not a fancy name) I will read things that sound really stupid in a query letter figuring that you just can't write a good query letter.

If you have a degree from Fancypants U, and a stupid query letter, the degree isn't going to make much difference. If you studied at a small cow college near Bumblee, Arkansas, I'm more interested than if you skated into Yale cause your greatgrandpop gave them a building and your dad's president of the fundraising society.

New Flash fic site

New flash fiction site for those of us who prefer our mysteries dark, dank and filled with cordite.

It's white on black, REALLY hard to read, but maybe if I whine enough it will magically change.


(thanks to the DorothyL list)

Nitwit of the Day!

Dear Miss Snark,

Reading your blog is a thoroughly pleasurable experience, for which I thank you, but I can't help feeling like a masochist when I catch myself clicking onto your URL. Don't you feel like you're giving a lot of these very misguided aspirants false hope by indulging them? 98% can't even write a query--how do the expect to revise MSS?



Giving people tools to improve isn't false hope.
Giving people information isn't false hope.

Get your head out of your *. Great writers don't spring from the womb fully formed, clutching a thesaurus and a publishing contract; they learned how the industry worked and practiced a lot.

Why are you worried about this anyway?

Thank you for answering my "how much do writers make" question.. I have a follow up question:

So from that 10k advance, you take a percentage for all your hard work. Does that mean that if I want to be a professional writer I should focus on writing MORE books rather than writing THE BOOK, one Great American Novel?

Consider: Assuming you take 20% of the $10,000 commission, that must mean there's tremendous market pressure (read: rent/mortgage) for you to sell a LOT of books to live in New York (if you live in New York). At LEAST 20 books a year. And does THAT mean you, as an agent, seek prolific writers more than gambling on potentially Great Writers?

Let's say you have one dude who squirts words like a dairy cow freebasing recombinent bovine growth hormone. He reliably cranks out 4 decent books a year. Is that writer more valuable to you than signing on 4 people who reliably crank out 1 book per year?


Agent commissions are 15%.
I don't think anyone in their right mind can "crank out" four books a year.
Books don't stop earning once they are published if you've done your job right.
Sub rights kick in to the kitty too.

I find this fascination with money a tad disquieting.

I don't sign clients based on how much money I think I can make. I sign clients who write great books and then I make deals that reflect that.

Ari Gold is a God...but Miss Snark still loves Satan

Dear Miss Snark,

I remember a post you wrote previously about clients becoming too personal with their agents. Though I think it would be hard to confuse Miss Snark with Ari, the Hollywood agent from the show Entourage, I wonder what are the exact limits of a literary agent and how do they differ from a talent/creative agent besides getting floors seats to the Lakers?


Actually Ari Gold is my idol.
And Lloyd needs a poodle to complete his daily ensemble.

I have no idea what the difference is cause I don't work with those guys, I just watch Entourage like everyone else. I don't assume that Entourage is how it really is any more than I'm From Rolling Stone is really what an intern does.




And it's Knix tix here. The Lakers stink.

Full service agency--you betcha

Dear Miss Snark,

I’m the guy that wrote recently about a “partial date” and “full date” with a literary agent. We did end up going out on a “full date”. I didn’t realize literary agents are so limber, but never mind all that.

Anyway, we had an intense but brief relationship. She dragged me all over town and introduced me to her family and friends. And then she suddenly dumped me. She said none of her family or friends had a sufficient level of enthusiasm for me. She said I’m a nice guy but I’m not viable in today’s market.

Then I met some bimbo agent named Babs. I thought well why not, and so I asked her out. I found out Babs the bimbo is the queen of vanity. She presses me to take her to the most expensive places and spend wads of cash on her. And not to be too crude, but even though she promises me amazing rewards I never get anything in return.

Should I give up on literary agents and start dating publishing company editors?


Yes.
Here are some very good choices.

Time and Tides wait for no man..uscript

Dear Miss Snark-Clooney, (ha)

I began writing a novel as a senior project in college last year. In the novel the scenes are somewhat disjointed (though there is a flow), and comments from one particular professor say so. That's fine. However, after rereading the draft, I'm beginning to think this professors comments ("When does this take place?" and "How much time has passed?") are irrelevant. Not only because I'm not writing for her, but because the disjointed-ness (is that a word?) of the story lends to the subject matter (mental illness).

As a young, idealistic writer fresh out of a liberal arts college, I feel the flow works for the story. However, I'm concerned readers (agents, publishers, public at large) will find the disjointed-ness (there's that word again) jarring. In your professional opinion, do you find yourself reaching for the nearest lighter if a story doesn't include clues about passage of time (we're not talking huge gaps of time...a few days at most)? Or is the ultimate answer "whatever works for the story"?



You can pretty much do anything weird IF I know ahead of time. This is why your cover letter is important. Tell me the "disjointedness" is on purpose, that you chose it as a motif, and I'll read with an informed eye.

Same if you have a character who speaks incorrect English all the time; you tell me the character has a distinctive grammar style, and I don't reach for the red pen.

On the other hand, you can use captions at the start of the chapter or time shift to great effect.

I have an (unsold) brilliant novel by a very very good writer that uses a twisted chronology to reveal character. His captions are event names (Christmas; Miss Snark's Gin Fest; Killer Yapp's night at the MTV Awards, etc) to ground the event on a timeline. You can bet I mention that in the cover letter and in all my pitches about the book. Of course, I haven't actually managed to sell it yet, but that's another story.

I used to like Sweden

well, this explains some of those less than stellar reviews for MY clients.

I laugh, but man oh man.
It's bad enough we have suck up bad reviews as part of the biz, but this really just sux.


(thanks to Sten for the linkage)

1.09.2007

We knew her when!

The low slung gin fizz is making news in Philly.

She may have Hindsight, but I see a novel in her future!

Even those tough, seen it all, not easily impressed gents in the Book review section noticed!

Mail

Greetings, Miss Snark,

If you ever get a break from crushing nitwits beneath the heels of your stilettos, while reading crapometer pages and sipping gin, Elizabeth Bear and a few of her writer friends had a discussion about honest rejection letters. It's quite funny.


Thanks for being so great.

PS All the best to Killer Yapp. I sent him a little something to help in his crusade against the evil attack squirrels, but I suspect Homeland Security or Customs has impounded it... Who knew it was illegal to send canine-operated rocket launchers through the mail?



Killer Yapp: "Miss Snark!"

MS: Yes, KY, what is it..more important, why are you up at this coffee forsaken hour?

KY: Door! Delivery!

MS: WTF?

KY: Big! Biped!

MS: WTF?? *peering through peephole*

(from exterior)

"Open Up! We know you're in there!"

MS: Holy G-man, KY, it's a raid! Hide the bathtub gin!

*opening door*

Uniformed employee of the US Postal Service: Ma'am.

MS: Miss Snark bub

UEUSPS: I have several packages here for you.

MS: You came to my door for this?

UEUSPS: Signature required, certified delivery.

MS: It's a damn query letter! Two, no three in fact!

UEUSPS: ID please.

MS: I need ID to get certified mail at my own door?

UEUSPS: We're tightening up in this new world of threats everywhere.

MS: Will my distillers license do?

UEUSPS: That photo doesn't look much like you.

MS: It's 5:42 am, I look Cotton Mather after a brimstone binge at the Presbyterian Bar and Grill.

UEUSPS: The postal service never sleeps.

MS: Yea, I can see that.

UEUSPS: oh, and here are some other things addressed to Mr. K Yapp.

MS: ID? Signature?

UEUSPS: No need. It's not certified, return receipt requested.

MS: It's a rocket launcher.

UEUSPS: It's stamped "media mail: book"

MS: It's three feet long

UEUSPS: It's stamped "media mail"

MS: It weighs 200 pounds.

UEUSPS: It's says "media mail"

MS: The return address is Rocket Launchers R US!

UEUSPS: Look lady, it says media mail, it is media mail. Now, give me your thumbprint and one more piece of ID for the certified mail and let me get out of here before that dog burns a hole in my pants with that cigar.

1.08.2007

Sotto voce

Dear Ms. Snark,

According to Publisher's Marketplace an agent that has my full had only one sale this year and another one the year before. Is this because they were not reported or an agent can function with only one sale a year?


Probably cause they weren't reported.

For verification of that plug in any of the following names: Nicole Aragi, Philip Spitzer, Phoebe Larmore. Few deals reported, but if any of them want to sign you, the only thing you better say is "you betcha".

I don't report all my deals either, but I'm not in their category by a long shot.

Multiple choice

Dear Miss Snark,

Help! I have to choose between three agents. (lucky you!)

About two weeks ago I received a call from Agent A asking if I had signed with anyone yet. She said she wanted to sign me but wanted a colleague to read the book first before offering and promised this would happen quickly. Agent A is a junior agent with a well-known agency and might need to get approval from a superior to sign. I don’t know.

I emailed my top two other agents with fulls to let them know of this development. Agent B had said some nice things about my partial and offered some helpful preliminary thoughts about same. Agent C is a major player in my category and the agent of a friend of mine.

After my email, Agent B read my novel quickly and responded with something that was neither rejection nor offer. She suggested some well-considered changes and made it clear that this wasn’t just a, “Do this and maybe I’ll look at it again,” but rather, “This is close. If you can make these changes to my satisfaction then I think this can fly.”

Yesterday, I received an email from the assistant to Agent C. She has finished my book and wanted to know if I was available to speak by phone on Monday. I figure that nobody calls with bad news.

Here’s the thing. I’ve already put some attention to the rewrites suggested by Agent B. I also feel that she connected with my work and, more importantly, could help me improve my novel. Emotionally, I want to make the changes and I want to sign with her agency.

But I keep thinking that if I turn down a firm offer from A or C that I may as well take up the Nitwit Scepter and crown myself King of Rabbitania. Damn good chance that by the time I complete my rewrites I will have annoyed Agents A&C, and that Agent B will give me a pass anyway.

I await your wise counsel.



This isn't a decision you make based on emotion. Get all your ducks in a row. Talk to Agent C. Talk to Agent A. Make sure Agent B really means "we're almost there". It's ok to be pretty specific about the fact you have three agents interested. This happens all the time on good projects.

An offer in hand is more valuable than an offer down the road.

On the other hand, (cause you knew this wouldn't be simple, right?) an agent who connects with your work, and works with you is a good thing.

Honestly though, I only see this kind of thing from the agent's side. I've never had to juggle three agents (well, there was that one time in the bar in Falmouth, Mass with Miss X, but she swore she'd never tell..).

Let's see what the comments trail kicks up. Contributions anyone? Have you been inundated with offers? How did you decide?

My fantasy is fewer words

Dear Miss Snark,

I wasn't sure if you have already discussed this, but I couldn't find it. I am preparing to query several agents on my fantasy novel which is the first of a seven book series. I wasn't sure if my synopsis should only contain what pertains to my first book or include an overview of the books to come. If it should contain information about the future installments, what percentage of the synopsis is dedicated to the first book? I don't want a long synopsis bogged down with unneeded information.

Also, when the agency wants the first chapter, do I also send the prologue, or only the prologue? (The prologue is the same size as my chapters).



I'm sure this dreadful question is in the Snarkives somewhere but it bears repeating. Even if you're planning to write a seven volume treatise on the politics of Rabbitania, start with book one. Your synopis is short, and it covers book one. You can mention very politely that you envision this as the start of a series. Try to avoid using a number.

Fantasy editors are more forgiving of this kind of thing than other less dragonly editors I'm told, but you have to sell this before you sell it all.

There's nothing wrong with starting at one and working your way up.

And when you're asked for chapters for dog's sake don't send the damn prologue. Send chapter one.

Sobol "not quite right" for itself

Gee...who would have thought?
Sobol cancels prize

and here's the post on Galleycat too

Turns out they didn't get enough entries to meet the Touchstone/Fireside minimum requirement of 2000 despite MONTHS of time.

Given we had 750+ entries in a 12 hour window for the same kind of gig-comment guaranteed, we'll pick the ones that go on to further snarking, I think it's HILARIOUS that enough people figured out this was a crock of shit and didn't bite.

And for all of you who spread the word, and made the noise...wowza!!!


Thanks to Sarah Weinman for the heads up!

1.07.2007

Crap Stats-done for this weekend

We're about halfway through the pages so we'll finish up next weekend.

If I've asked you for pages in an email, you've got till Friday to get them in.
After that, you're toast.

I'll be answering questions M-F so if you've emailed a question (there are 75 on hold plus 16 from the holding pen during the HH Com) I'll get to it...but no promises on when.

HH Com Rd 2 - #29 (519)

Hook here

Chapter One

Today could very easily be the worst day of my life. Except that day has already been accounted and paid for, with enough tears to saturate the Mojave Desert.

You see, one year ago today, I turned thirty-four (yes, that means that I, Elizabeth Leanne Stevens, am now thirty-five, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Also, one year ago today, instead of being given flowers and a romantic dinner to celebrate my birthday, I was handed my walking papers. My husband of ten years – my boyfriend for ten years previous to that – announced he wanted a divorce. He was madly in love with another woman and he was moving out. Immediately.

As if that wasn’t crappy enough, he also instructed me to rearrange my schedule for the following day. He wanted me to be at home when the real estate agent came by to put the ‘for sale’ sign up on his house.

Yeah, Marc, my dickhead ex-husband, actually referred to the home we’d planned together, had built together, and had decorated together as his.

The ass.

If you’re wondering how I could have missed such a grand-aptitude toward dickheadedness after spending twenty years with this man – you’re not alone. I’ve spent the last twelve-months wondering the same. What I’ve decided is I married a lemon. Unfortunately, there was no handy guide to check with a nicely organized table of contents. I object strongly to this. Come on, you get a set of instructions in three different languages when you buy any minor appliance, you should sure as hell get one when you commit your life to another person.
Many marriages would be saved if such a manual existed. I am positive of this. And, hey, it could become part of the wedding ceremony, given out in front of all your family and friends. Right after the ‘I Do’s,” and right before the kiss.

Anyway, to get back on track; today is my thirty-fifth birthday. It is also the one-year anniversary of the day my husband stomped all over my heart. I have yet to leave my apartment this morning. Hell, I may as well be completely truthful – I have yet to leave my bed. And if I could figure out a way to do so, without feeling like a self-pitying idiot, I'd stay in bed for the next week.

Because what I have to do today could quite seriously make me ill.

Scratch that.

It could kill me.

As in flat out dead.

I can see the headlines now.

DEATH BY CAKE! HIGHLAND PARK BAKER SUFFERS MASSIVE HEART ATTACK WHILE SWALLOWING EVERY LAST VESTIGE OF PRIDE SHE HAD LEFT WHEN BAKING HER EX-HUSBAND AND HIS MISTRESS’S WEDDING CAKE.

Yep, that’s right. My job today, on my freaking birthday of all days, is to create a culinary work of art for the soon to be Mr. and Mrs. Marcus Stevens. Marc and Tiffany. Otherwise known by my small circle of friends as the Jerk and Jerkette. Personally, I prefer dickhead and brainless twit. Crass? Probably. But hey, it makes me feel better.

You may also be wondering how I, of all the bakers in the Chicago area, would be the one chosen for this momentous occasion.

Did I mention my ex is a dickhead?

Marc swears he had nothing to do with this latest misery, only discovered by me a week ago, but rather it was Tiffany’s mother who chose Indulgence as the bakery for her daughter’s “High Society” wedding.

Ha, high society. Granted, Marc is very successful in his selected field. In fact, he is one of the biggest, meanest sharks in his own little shark tank of personal and business financial planning.

But, come on, high society? I wouldn’t go that far.

Let’s be frank. I wish I could say that a year later I was completely okay with my world and the choices that brought me to today. Not only mine, but Marc’s.

That, however, would be a monstrous lie. And I draw the line at lying to myself. Usually. Mostly. Okay, so every now and then I tell myself a small fib, especially when I want a second piece of anything chocolate. I figure it’s okay to lie about two things in life if you’re a woman: chocolate and headaches.

What I am, if I am bluntly and rudely honest with myself, is a woman filled with remorse, confusion, sadness, and yes…a huge amount of venom. I am the coiled up snake waiting for the perfect millisecond to attack. Unfortunately, I am also the timid house mouse that runs and hides at the first sign of trouble.

That’s me, the mouse hiding the snake.


Windup works if you've got an unexpected payoff (think Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner). The payoff here is undercut because I wonder why the baker didn't notice a name on an order? didn't consult with the bride? uh...even in my extremely limited interaction with the bridally afflicted, that doesn't seem right.

You've got a biz-as-usual set up: husband dumps wife for tiffany setting; previous wife miffed as hell. Something needs to catch on fire, and soon.

This was a great idea in the hook. Have you considered starting with when she discovers she can do magic instead of all this set up?

HH Com Rd 2 - #28 (278/276)

Hook here


The crestfallen men filed in and settled around the bristlecone conference table. Henry Winston slammed the door of the huge magical oak tree behind them. Henry knew it was Launye's fault, but she had her nose in the air, exuding an aura of innocence. Typical.

"We've lost the contract and have been penalized the advance again. At this rate we won't be able to cover the cost for Launye's magic water," James Winston said, dropping his law books and contracts on the table. Henry narrowed his eyes at the fairy. Launye was acting oblivious. Also typical.

"Why did you kill them?" Henry asked.

"I swear I didn't do anything to further that unicorn's demise," Launye said.

"Then lightning just happened to kill the unicorn and all of its kin at the same time?"

Launye fixed her eyes on him and then charged forward. She kicked him firmly on his nose.

"That's for doubting me. I told you I didn't kill them. It just happened."

"You don't think I know that the unicorn called you, 'a fucking imp with wings on a stick' and you didn't kill it and its kin for that? That's like telling me that Suck Ass Verse Law Agents can find their mouths with both hands."

"Yeah, well, regardless, they deserved it. Besides, what proof was the magic water you gave me? I could have saved them," Launye said.

Henry ignored Launye's string of whining. He yawned as an insult. Why couldn't the woman be like the others and just shut up? Henry eyed the new invention that Wyatt was tinkering with --a gun-- and wished that he could use it on Launye. Then he could have fairy kabob.

"...incompetent insolent imbecile," Launye finished. Took her long enough. He turned towards the fairy and affected the best superior expression he could summon.

"Dust mites of a feather should flock together. Fairies on wing should learn better. Which is exactly why I'm docking your magic water supply to a liter!"

Launye's face puffed up, and then with the full force of her body, rammed head first into his nose. He yelped. "You know I die without at least a barrel of magic water."

Forget fairy kabob, it was going to be fairy charcoal by the time he was done with her.

"Yeah, well, I feel like forgetting this time. So a liter of magic water." The door of the magic tree opened and closed. Tom walked in with his older twin Gene. Henry took note, but still focused on the fairy.

"So what did I miss? Did you guys get a room yet?" Tom asked. Henry stared Tom down. Gene groaned and kicked Tom in the shin. "What?! It was a legitimate question this time. Don't you think it will lighten people's moods?" Tom asked.

Henry was going to reply when the screen behind the banister blinked. Wyatt got up from his seat to activate it, but it clicked on by itself. The CEO of IDIOT Network's fat face filled the screen. "I hope you don't mind the intrusion, but I would like to know if you are still bitter at me."

"Banishing us to a backwater planet as part of a media circus ploy? Who would be bitter?" Henry asked.

"Given that I helped you escape SUCAVL agents this time, I was hoping you would forgive me. I heard you killed the last remaining unicorns on Kirin IV," the network CEO said.

"Wyatt, turn it off," Henry said.

Wyatt put down his invention and ran up the stairs to the screen. He typed a few things into a keyboard and shook his head. "He's ghosting the signal. I can't reverse it."

"I can give you all pardons permanently if you will just listen to my daughter and take up her deal," the network CEO said.

The screen clicked off and filled with a line of cleavage. "Daddy, is it on now?" a female voice asked. A soft sigh echoed through the room. "It is? Hi, I'm Isabelle," a blonde said sitting down. She tossed back her hair and then smiled wide. "I want to make a reality show on your company. We will cover all costs of magic water, give you a 500 million dwehper advance and pardons for any illegal activities done on the show. Henry, James, so will you accept?"


There are some odd constructions here "string of whining", 'take up her deal" "kabob" that make me think this is constructed in a second language.

The hook was fresh and vivid, but not very informative. At the very least I need to know if this is YA fantasy or intended for the grownups (so to speak).

I like this idea; I'd read the pages but man oh man, those odd words and phrases don't bode well for the copy editing.