Tag Archives: Writing

No more boring characters. Please. Pretty please.

Without interesting characters, there would be no reason to pick up a novel, as humans are all basically voyeurs, and our most favorite pastime is observing each other. With a good read we can get inside an imaginary human’s head, see what makes them tick, understand their flaws and foibles. So beyond what physical descriptions can tell us about our characters, what can we do to make them alive and breathing, especially considering some modern schools of thought decry physical descriptions at all? Let’s take a look at this “Checklist on Creating Characters,” taken from David Starkey’s Creative Writing – Four Genres in Brief  (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), a terrific textbook I’ve used in my Creative Writing classes:

  1. Do you know your main characters and their desires well? You should have a strong sense of who your characters are, where they live, where they’ve been, and the driving forces that make them act. They should know what they want and what they’re prepared to do to get it.
  2. Does your story show us only the essential aspect of your characters? While it’s important that you know your characters thoroughly, you will be revealing only a tiny sliver of that info on the page. Show your characters being themselves, only more so. Whatever conflict they are involved in should bring out a heightened sense of who they really are.
  3. Is your description of each character appropriate to, and necessary for, that character’s function in the story? You, the author, should always have a clear mental picture of your characters, but you should ask yourself if a complete physical, psychological, ethical, etc., description is really necessary for all characters. Unless some physical or emotional aspect of your character is necessary to the storyline, leave it out.
  4. Are the characters’ names appropriate? Do it reflect their personality? Their ethnicity? A physical characteristic? Try not to have too many Sams, Steves, Saras or Susans, as so many of the same letter can be confusing. And if that 1840s character from the remotest region of cloistered China is named O’Brien, you better have a reason why.
  5. Should that character be named at all? He’s a doorman the protagonist breezes past on the way out. Who cares. Unless, of course, later on he comes after him with a shotgun.
  6. Are your main characters different at the end of the story than they were in the beginning? The most convincing fictional characters are both consistent and surprising. Reread the opening and concluding sections of your story. Do you see a difference in how your protagonist began and how he or she ends up? If there’s no growth–or considerable decline–then you have a static character, and your readers will feel cheated.
  7. And at the end, will they leave your readers wanting more? Essential if you want to continue your story in a series. Like breadcrumbs through the woods, leave a trail of intriguing tidbits about the characters you’d like your readers to follow into the next book. And the next, and the next, and beyond.
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New Agent On the Prowl

While I was perusing one of my favorite writing-related sites, Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity, I came across some brandy-new agents who are actively seeking clients and lo and behold–one of them is from the agency that represents moi! Her name is Meg LaTorre-Snyder of Corvisiero Literary, and here’s the skinny on who she is and what she’s looking for…

Meg LaTorre-Snyder is an editor and writer with a background in magazine publishing, journalism, medical writing, and website creation. With her background, she’s excited to have a hands-on editorial partnership with authors. She has written for digital and print publications on a variety of topics, including book publishing, writing how-tos, nutrition, healthy living, startup companies, and pharmaceuticals. In her free time, she enjoys working on her own adult fantasy manuscript, reading long novels, drinking tea by the bucket, running in competitive races, participating in musical productions, playing basketball, and reading nutrition textbooks (yep, textbooks). To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter/Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.

What she is seeking: YA, NA, and adult:

Fantasy
Historical fiction
Romance (with magical elements)
Space opera
Steam punk
Thrillers (with magical elements)
She loves books written in third-person with multiple POVs, quirky, realistic characters, and rich descriptions.

Meg is not interested in nonfiction, picture books, contemporary stories (particularly those with no magical elements), erotica, horror, dystopian, screenplays, poetry, short stories, and novellas.

How to Submit: Send your query, first five pages, and 1-2 page synopsis in the body of an email (no attachments) to query@corvisieroagency.com with the following information in the subject line:

Query for Meg: [TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT IN ALL CAPS], [age group], [genre]

Getting ready to pitch? Read me first!

So you’re getting ready to pitch your book at your first writers conference because you think you’ve finished the ms. But have you? Here’s something few new writers realize: you haven’t. Then how do you know when you have finished? When you send back the publisher’s galleys. Galleys? What are galleys?

Oh boy, do you have some work to do.

So between now and then you need to go over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, looking for plot holes, continuity slips, characters inconsistencies, etc. This is also a good time to use a beta reader, a critique partner (highly recommended), or someone you trust to give it an honest, critical read, and not someone who’ll just say “It was great!” because they don’t want to damage your fledgling writer ego. (Look, I may as well hit you with it now–the World of Writing is a World of Hurt. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can dab off your cryin’ eyes and get back to work.) But here’s a caveat to all that critiquing–DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! If your betas are worth it they’re not criticizing you, they’re critiquing the work. And it’s better hearing it from them first than having it rejected by an editor or agent because of some very fixable flaw. So do the work now and get it over with because you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Your work will need to be as perfect as possible, and that’s  the whole work, right to THE END.

One thing that is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE is that you MUST have a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT before you start pitching it. Why? Let me tell you something about agents and editors: they are being bombarded by submissions. My agent alone gets up to 200 queries a week. If you get a submission request and you don’t send your manuscript within a month, trust me, she’ll forget all about you. Strike while the iron is  steaming and before you move out of her memory. But again, only after you polish that manuscript until it’s pink and screaming.

The Basics—Genre and Word Count.

You know what your manuscript is about, but how would you categorize it? And what is your word count?  A typical fiction novel is 75,000 to 100,000 words, though most check in around 80-85k. Round this number to the nearest thousand. The editor doesn’t have to know it’s 82,437 words. You also need to know your genre. This is key as this is how you’ll not only narrow your search for an agent, but once you’ve found one, it’s how she’ll target it to editors. Common Fiction genres are:

literary                 commercial          mystery                romance    

women’s fiction   humor/satire        historical              new adult

young adult          middle grade       children’s             picture book

espionage             thriller/suspense    gay/lesbian          military

horror           fantasy        sci-fi                graphic novel

paranormal           erotica

Or any combination of. Some of the popular genres, such as mystery and romance, also have sub-genres, ie, “cozy” mysteries, like Agatha Christie, or historical romance, or spec-sci-fi.

Common Non-Fiction genres are:

history                 sports                   biography            science

memoirs               narrative              pop culture          cultural/social sci

travel                   political                humor                  gift books

health/fitness       gardening            photography       self-help

true crime            art                        adventure            business

how-to                 journalism           religion                cookbooks

celebrity               current affairs

You need to be very familiar with your genre and word count, as you’ll need it for your presentation or query. It’ll be one of the first things the editor or agent will want to know.

Finding your Perfect Editor/Agent

The majority of publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. Some epublishers do, and so do some genre pubs, like romance and sci-fi but if you want to target one of the major houses without an agent, really the only way you’re going to get to them is through pitch sessions at writers conferences or the direct recommendation of one of their clients. Unless you’re lucky enough to know the latter, you’re going to have to do some legwork for the former.  Because there’s nothing worse than meeting with an editor or agent face-to-face and having them say, “Sorry, I don’t represent that genre.” From which the luminescent glow of your  crimson face will no doubt show the world what a minor league player you are. So do your homework.

  • Read other authors in the genre of what you write, and target those editors or agents. Look in the acknowledgement page and see who the author thanks. Look through the books you have already bought, or go haunt your local bookstore. Then when you’re querying the agent, or sitting down for a face-to-face, you can say your book is a cross between “this writer and that writer with a touch of another writer thrown in.”
  • Literary Marketplace (LMP). If you don’t know what it is, time to find out. Available in hard copy and database at most local libraries.
  • Manuscript Wish List , the websiteMSWL or the hashtag, #MSWL. Find editors and agents, and see what they’re looking for.
  • Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity. Love love love this blog. Too much publishing info to put down on this entry, so go there and see for yourself.
  • Go directly to the agent’s website, and see what authors they represent, and what books they’ve sold. This is even more important for an editor. Go directly to the publisher’s website. An editor or agent may say they LIKE something but if they’ve never SOLD it, they may not be a good fit. A SALE is always a more reliable indicator.

Targeting your Editor or Agent

Now that you know your genre, and how to research an agent, or an editor, you need to target which one will fit your style. Compare the list of visiting editors and agents to what you write and see if there’s a fit. If an editor only publishes literary fiction and you write sci-fi, chances are, no matter how well you write, they will not accept your submission. Same goes with agents. If an agent’s specialty is romance, and you write essays, you’re going to strike out. Too many times writers will submit to agents that don’t represent their type of writing, and then can’t understand why they get rejected. I can’t stress this enough: It’s better NOT to submit than to submit to the wrong editor and/or agent. Don’t think they’re just going to fall in love with your western and grab it anyway, when all they’ve previously sold is cookbooks. That happens VERY rarely in the real world. Save yourself a lot of needless rejection angst and just do your homework.

Now hop to it!

Editors! Agents! Authors! Oh my!

Jones-ing for some editors and agents and a little literary elbow-rubbing? Then how about taking a trip to Red Bank for the LitPow Author-Preneur Workshop by the River on September 16, 2017.  This event is an amazing multilayered interactive full day workshop with presentations by  Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., and other key industry professional guests dedicated to authors’ success. The workshop is presented at a beautiful location by the Navesink River in Red Bank, NJ, where the setting is relaxing and inspiring. Light breakfast, lunch, and social mixer will be provided.

During this retreat like full day workshop authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Heidi McLaughlin during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Gong Show: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.

For more info and registration about the Author-Preneur Workshop visit their website here.

If I only had the time, sigh…

I read an article today in the New York Times by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed about a woman who had a powerful dream one night about writing a book. The dream was so intense she awoke in tears, almost ready to quit her job and become a barista so she could pursue it. (Riiiight. Because that’s the path bestsellerdom, certainly more practical than getting an MFA and adjuncting yourself out as an English professor. But I digress.) Cheryl Strayed, who knows a thing or two about dropping out, acknowledged that dream may have been a kind of wake-up call, but also issued a few cautions. “Writing a book is drudgery,” she said. “It requires an apprenticeship. I suggest that you begin by doing it. Sign up for a workshop or take a vacation and spend it writing. See where that leads you. You don’t have to immediately quit your job to become a writer. You need only to start writing.”

Words never more true. You can’t call yourself a writer if you never write because writers write. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “I’d write a book if I only had the time,” or “When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Yeah, because writers are really people with these friendless, vacant lives, and they only write to give themselves something to do besides watching The Bachelorette. (And no I didn’t.) Now, when I retire I’m going to preform brain surgery because you know, it’s the same kind of simple skill set. In my opinion, this type of thinking boils down to what many outside the profession believe: that writing is either something anyone can do if one could afford the leisure, or it’s this ephemeral kind of vocation that awards stardom upon completion of the inevitable masterwork. In reality, I hate to tell you, it’s usually neither.

But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the writing life is just that. It’s like being being pregnant: you either are or you’re not. You can’t be kinda. When you’re in the life, it’s all-consuming. A work-in-progress is a cruel, unrelenting succubus (or incubus) that forgoes your loins for your every creative thought. It demands all of your time, whether working or driving or eating  or sleeping–it takes hold of both rational and irrational thought and doesn’t let go. It demands you set every word and impulse down by forcing you to confront the blank page, administering pain no opiate could numb, but rewarding you with a pleasure beyond sublime in the process.  But to be good at it, to be a success, it entails hours upon tens of hours of trial and error, the ability to withstand heaps and heaps of criticism, the tenacity to write the same passage a dozen times over, and the capacity to understand failure as a fact of any writer’s life.

In the end, if you have a hardened enough hide to spend hours in a chair, days without family, weekends forgoing anything social, and months and months of hurrying up to meet a deadline, only to spend an equal amount of time hearing nothing back, then maybe–just maybe you’re ready to wake up from that dream into a new reality. And take that job as a barista.

Hey, at least it has benefits.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Poor Yorick Journal

Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects brings back into light the skeletons hidden in our cultural closets.  The free online journal welcomes writing and other creative productions about lost objects and images of material culture: sculptures and paintings in the back rooms of museums or in hidden corners of public spaces; murals forgotten in plain view; lost photographic archives and restored films; newly discovered letters or manuscripts; knickknacks in attics; oddities and curiosities in misbegotten sideshows; forgotten stories that remind us of pasts that we cannot afford to forget.

Poor Yorick invites submissions in any and every literary genre and any electronically reproducible visual or audio medium.  In addition to open submissions, the journal’s editorial staff will occasionally identify a particular historical object, collection, exhibit, etc., and call for submissions inspired by the selected artifact or collection.

Poor Yorick evaluates submissions exclusively through our submissions manager, Submittable, which can be accessed here.  For more information, visit their submission guidelines page.

Congratulations! You’ve been rejected!

I know I’ve dealt with the subject of rejections before and although it’s hardly a happy topic, it is one of transition. Reality is a cruel mistress, and you can’t spin in the real world of writers if you’ve never been kicked to your ass a few times (or over a hundred like I’ve been, probably more, as I trust my agent to only give me the good news.) And you may as well face it now, snowflake, it’ll probably get a lot worse before it gets better. True, there’s always the case of the author whose first manuscript lands with the first agent they contact who sells it to the first editor. This happens. I know of a couple of cases myself. But the bald fact is the road to publication is pocked with a shit-ton of potholes. The trick is to learn how to veer around them and keep on going.

A fellow writer of mine got her very first rejection yesterday from an industry professional. She said although getting one made her sad, the agent gave her such detailed comments, she considered it good advice rather than criticism. It made her reconsider her characterization, as well as where the protagonist’s actions were leading the plot. And that in turn made her see her protagonist in a new light. I cautioned her that you don’t have to always agree with what an editor or an agent says as ultimately, you have the final say on what you write. But sometimes you can come so close to a work, especially after many revisions, you lose sight of the overall story arc. And I hate to say it but sometimes, unless that advice comes from an industry professional, you may not take those suggestions to heart. Often we will already have heard the same thing from a friend or beta-reader, but who listens to those? Unless, of course it’s effusive praise.  The other thing is–and you’ll often hear an agent or editor echoing this–all writing, as well as reading, is subjective. As what may seem phenomenal to you may just seem meh to an industry professional. As in the–REJECTION I JUST RECEIVED WHILE WRITING THIS!! My agent’s text:

Just got a decline from XXXXX <publisher>. <Editor> said you are very talented, but she didn’t fall in love with the story as much as she wanted to. Sorry.

Fuck. Fuckity-fuck fuck. But I’m not going to get upset. I’M NOT. Really and truly. <goes to retrieve big piece of 72% Belgian chocolate to salve wounded ego. Drinks big sip of water. Feels much better. Though has been known to lie on occasion.>

A-hem! Where was I? Oh yes, my self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me a duck, because you do have to let it slide off your back. At this moment I’m channeling James Lee Burke and his book The Lost Get Back Boogie that was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published, and even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hey, you got to find your inspiration somewhere.

Now get back to work.

Call for Proposals!

Liberty States Fiction Writers, a multi-genre fiction writing group meeting in New Jersey (and for whom yours truly is the Vice-President) has sent out a call for proposals for our annual Writers Conference. Have a workshop about the craft or business of writing? Maybe you have a fun filled idea for a readers track panel? Perhaps you have both? Then we want to hear from you!

The Liberty States Fiction Writers welcomes pre-published writers at all levels as well as e-published, indie press and traditionally published authors.

Yearly dues for new members are $50 and include attendance at monthly workshops, reduced conference rate, access to Members Only section with videos/podcasts of past workshops, monthly newsletters, promotional opportunities and more.

Our annual conference will take place at the The Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in South Iselin, NJ March 24 – 25, 2018. Conference includes workshops, panels, editor and agent appointments, select meals, networking, book fair and more. Conference registration opens in September, though for more information about LSFW and on submitting your proposal now, go here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

Sex Scenes for Chicks 101

Out of all my posts, this one seems to be the most popular, as the hits have been innumerable. So here is my sagey-est of sage advice. Hope it helps!

Gwen Jones Writes

man-kissing-womanSex scenes are as integral to spicy romance as whipped cream is to sundaes (or to use-your-imagination), but quantity hardly speaks for quality. A proliferation of ins and outs and seductive banter are only the more apparent components of saucy scene-writing. Truth be told, there should be much more going on before the point of contact than during. A romance writer should never forget to keep an eye on the romance if she’s ever going to make the scene truly sensuous. So how to accomplish it?

Romance is mostly written by and for women, and because of that the prose has to be approached with their sensibilities in mind. Women take their cues from the images they form in their mind as their senses are acted upon, rather than visuals observed as men are more apt to do. This is the greatest difference I’ve noted between sex scenes written by…

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2017 Housatonic Book Awards Submissions Now Open

The MFA in Creative and Professional Writing (my alma mater) and its Alumni Cooperative is proud to open the 2017 submission period for the Housatonic Book Awards. Please read the guidelines below carefully and find our 2017 Entry Form Here or “Submit” page. You can also submit electronically by following the link to the left soon. We look forward to your work. The submission period ends on June 16, 2017.

The 2017 Housatonic Book Awards will be granted to full-length books published in the 2016 calendar year; the Award for Fiction will be open to titles published in 2015 and 2016.

Housatonic Award for Fiction (Genre Fiction for 2017)

Granted to a book of short or long fiction published in 2015 or 2016. The award alternates annually between literary fiction and genre fiction; the 2017 Award will go to a title categorized as genre fiction: mystery, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, etc. (as opposed to “literary” fiction). The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Poetry

Granted to a book of poetry (at least 40 pages) published in 2016. The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Nonfiction (Includes Creative Nonfiction)

Granted to a nonfiction book (including all subgenres—memoir, creative nonfiction, investigative and other varieties of journalism, travel, political, science, business communications, public relations, self help, etc.). The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the August residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of August) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Writing for Middle Grades or Young Adults

Granted to a book of fiction or nonfiction for middle grade children or young adults. The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the August residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of August) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Payment of Award

The $500 travel stipend will be paid before the end of 2017. The $1000 honorarium will be paid upon completion of the winner’s appearance at the designated residency of the WCSU MFA program.

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