QueryTracker Blog

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Your Hero's Dark Side: Looking into the Abyss

People’s fascination with Halloween fascinates me. Why do we get so excited about a day that focuses on spooks, scares, and monsters?

Maybe because that creepy stuff calls to the dark side that resides in each of us.

Psychologist Carl Jung argued that everyone has a dark, repressed side, which he called the Shadow. More modern theorists claim that this Shadow is a reservoir for creativity. And when I look at the overwhelming popularity of a writer like Stephen King, I believe it.

A King fan myself, I am fascinated by the way the author doesn’t just graze elbows with the Dark Side – he plunges head-first into the scariest situations he can think of.

And his fans are riveted.

One of the things I like about King is that his heroes are not knights in tarnished – let alone shining – armor. They are flawed human beings, most of whom fall prey to their own dark sides. King realizes that, as Nietzsche claimed, “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” In other words, one cannot interact with or fight monsters without awakening the monster that lies within. Like calls to like.

Perhaps realizing that humankind is vulnerable to that dark side, Nietzsche also exhorted, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster."

Years ago, someone else once gave me the same advice in different words. He said, “When we fight evil, we must take care not to become the very thing we hate.”

Let me give you an example.

Not quite two weeks ago, a man in Zanesville, Ohio released 56 exotic animals from their cages and then committed suicide. Unfortunately, because it’s very hard to safely re-capture such animals, 49 of those animals were killed. Many people were outraged, and the authorities dealing with the situation began receiving death threats.

Stop and think about this for a moment, folks. These people are threatening to kill people (and sometimes they do kill people) because they disagree with the authorities killing (animals). In other words, in their hatred, these “activists” are becoming the very monsters they claim to be fighting. Their hatred has consumed their reason.

So on this Halloween, think about your Shadow, and your main character's Shadow. What does your main character hate and fear more than anything? What is he willing to do to exterminate the hated and feared thing? How can you make his interactions with the hated thing taint him? In other words, each time your character looks into the abyss, how can the abyss claim a little more of him?

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+

Friday, October 28, 2011

Publishing Pulse for October 2, 2011

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to our newest success stories, Dawn Kurtagich and S.E. Sinkhorn

We've added two new agent to the database: Molly Reese of Einstein Thompson Agency, and Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. Over thirty agent profiles were updated this week, so please, we beg you: before querying, make sure you check the agent's most recent guidelines. 

Publishing News:

Several agents enjoyed a Twitter conversation under the hashtag #OfferOfRep. The question: if a writer receives an offer of representation, should s/he notify agents who only have the query but no other material? The answer: some agents want to know and others don't. (If an agent has requested your manuscript, by the way, there is no question: you notify everyone with your manuscript the same day you receive an offer of representation.)

Amazon.com earnings were lower than anticipated this quarter. Amazon spokesmen weren't worried, though. They attributed the fluctuation to heavy purchases of Kindles and anticipate making it up in ebooks over the long term.

Kobo Books has announced that it will create a publishing arm of its ebook business.

Simon & Schuster, Random House and Hachette Books all give authors access to their sales data.

Around the Blogosphere:

Victoria Crispin aggregated all the stories about the implosion of Aspen Mountain Press. If you read nothing else this week, please read that and head editor Celina Summers' account.

Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary discussed the importance of genre and classifying your novel.

Publishers Weekly talks about bad book covers.

Literary Quote of the Week:
"My life has a superb cast, but I can't figure out the plot."

Thanks for reading, and until next week, keep those queries flying!


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Forensics Q&A: Explosives Detection in Airports

By Kristy Lahoda | @KristyLahoda

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post should not be used for malicious intent unless it is in the form of crime writing. The author is an explosives expert, not an expert in airport security. While every attempt was made to ensure the accuracy of this information, for security purposes, some details may have been withheld. 
QUESTION: I am writing a thriller in which my hero has been carrying explosives in his bag, but no longer is. Would airport security (in the US) know that he had been carrying explosives? How would they know this?

ANSWER: As a result of the explosion of Pan Am Flight 803 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December of 1988 as well as airline bombings over Africa and Columbia the following year, the United States passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990 which started the U.S. on the track to finding an explosives detection technology to prevent similar disasters.

Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law. This placed the TSA under the U.S. Department of Transportation. One hundred percent of all luggage was to be screened for explosives. There are multiple ways that explosives screening is performed on luggage across the United States: Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) and Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) also called Trace Explosives Detection (TED).

EDS uses Computer-Aided Tomography technology, i.e. CAT scans. The density and mass of objects are measured within luggage. Explosives have a fairly unique range of densities. X-rays produced from the CAT scans are translated into cross-sectional images by computer software whose densities are then compared to densities of known explosives by software algorithms. The operator can inspect the item if something suspect is indicated.

Explosives Trace Detection (ETD)

ETD is something more visual at the airport and is used in a few different ways (that I know of). One way is to use an “electronic nose” which is sampling the ambient air for explosive vapors. This technique requires high vapor pressure explosives such as organic peroxides mainly used in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  

Another ETD is a portal. When a person walks through this, air is blown over them and then sucked into the instrument and collected at a filter where the sample is pre-concentrated. The filter is heated and the vaporized particles are carried to the sensor where an instrument called an Ion Mobility Spectrometer (IMS) is used to determine if the sample contains an explosive(s). An ion is a positively or negatively charged particle. The ion particles can be identified as to whether or not they are from explosives based on the length of time it takes them to travel to the detector.  

A third way is when the luggage screener pulls you aside because something suspicious was seen in your belongings or maybe because you were selected for a random sampling. I have been screened this way several times. You are directed to an area behind the screening conveyor belt. A different screener swipes your personal belongings or the items inside and possibly your hands with a paper disk. The swipe is placed into an IMS and within 10-15 seconds the swipe has been analyzed. If explosive particulates were present on the swipe, the detector will sound and the type of explosive present will be indicated.

Ion Mobility Spectrometer (IMS)

Let’s take a closer look at how IMS is used to determine whether a sample contains an explosive(s).  

When the swipe is placed in the oven of the instrument, the sample is vaporized and some of the vapor is turned into ions, or ionized, usually by a radioactive source. A common source is the beta emitter, 63Ni. Ions of the sample are carried through a drift tube by what is called the drift gas. Different ions will have different drift speeds, called mobilities, and as a result will separate and arrive at the detector at different times. Typically smaller ions have a higher mobility than larger ions.  

The IMS can operate in two different modes: positive ion mode and negative ion mode. For explosives detection, the IMS will operate mostly in the negative ion mode. Explosives such as those with —nitro groups (—NO2), for example trinitrotoluene (TNT), are very electronegative. This means that they attract electrons very easily. As a result, when ionized, these types of explosives will form negatively charged ions, called anions. If the IMS is in the negative ion mode and TNT is detected on the swipe, an alarm will signal on the IMS and indicate that TNT has been detected.

Triacetone triperoxide, TATP, is a high explosive that is a favorite of terrorists because of how easily it can be made. It forms a positive ion (cation) when an adduct is formed, i.e. when it combines with ammonium (NH4+). If TATP is present when the IMS is operated in the positive ion mode, then an alarm will sound to indicate that TATP was detected. This screening process only takes seconds!

Quality Assurance Testing to Provide Accurate Results

These instruments must go through quality assurance testing to ensure that they will provide accurate results.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) develops Standard Reference Material (SRM) that scientists use for validation of instruments and procedures. A new SRM was developed in the spring of this year to meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) requirements for acceptable minimum performance of the Explosives Trace Detectors (ETDs).

This SRM contains calibrated solutions of the explosives RDX (an ingredient in C-4), PETN, and TNT. The test protocol involves adding one drop of RDX along with a solvent blank to the swipe. After the solvent is allowed to evaporate, the swipe is tested and the alarm should indicate the presence of an explosive. This is repeated with the other two calibrated explosives solutions mentioned. These calibration solutions were developed to be close to the detection limit (DL) of the instruments meaning they are developed, tested, and sold at the lowest concentration that the instrument could reliably detect. If they were lower than the DL, then the instrument would not be able to determine that an explosive was present when these calibration solutions were used. This new SRM will allow for the ETDs performance and reliability to be routinely tested in order to help ensure airport security.

Kristy Lahoda, Ph.D., is an explosives analyst contractor in a crime lab as well as a science content editor for a major educational publishing company.  She writes Christian forensic suspense and discusses forensics on her blog called Explosive Faith.  You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a forensics question for Dr. Lahoda that you'd like to see answered on the QueryTracker Blog, send your question via Carolyn Kaufman using the email link under Contact Us in the right-hand column of the main QTB page.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spice It Up!

                                                             ©Stina Lindenblatt

Like with cooking, adding spice to your writing can transform it from okay to mouth watering. Mouth watering enough to keep your reader turning the pages. Mouth watering enough to make them eager to read your next book. Mouth watering enough to make writers wonder what your secret is for great writing. Yes, I’m taking about those impossible to pronounce words: rhetorical devices.
There are over sixty different rhetorical devices. Some you’ll be surprised to learn you already know (i.e. analogy). Here are eight, along with an example of each.  These ones (among others) are ideal for fiction, but can also be used in non-fiction.
The repetition of sounds at the beginning of a word.
My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury.
My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. (Both examples were from the same page of the novel.)
The last word of a sentence is repeated at the beginning of the next sentence (or near the beginning of the next sentence).
I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops.
The repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning or three or more sentences.
It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make things fair. It doesn’t fill our stomachs. In fact, it scares off the nearby game.
When you omit the conjunction in a list of words or phrases. In the example below, the conjunction ‘and’ has been dropped from the sentence.
He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.
A repetition of a word (or phrase) for emphasis. Great for emphasizing emotions.
The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not me, that it’s not me, that it’s not me.
The use of a conjunction between each word or phrase in a list (instead of using the conjunction between the last two words).
With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces or wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.
Simile (Metaphors are also rhetorical devices)
Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live. Right now it’s silent as a stone.
A list in which the last word (phrase) is not like the others. (Think Sesame Street: One of these is not like the others.)
Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow.

If you think rhetorical devices are only for literary fiction, guess again. The above examples are from the young adult dystopian novel, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. And not only that, they’re from the first chapter. Now that’s powerful writing.
How to Use Rhetorical Devices
  • Add them when you want to place extra emphasis on something. For example, turning points in your plot or sections of heightened emotion.
  • Use them on the first page of your story to hook your reader.
  • Add them at the beginning and end of each scene to keep the reader reading.
  • Blend several together.
  • Make sure they are there for a reason. Don’t randomly insert them. If you do, you might waste an opportunity by only adding them to places of low importance.
  • Make them seamless, not obnoxious. Your reader shouldn’t notice them, unless he’s a writer who knows about rhetorical devices.
  • Because there are so many, select about fifteen to twenty that call to you, and work them into your writing as much as possible. As you become comfortable with those ones, add to your list.
  • Study your favorite stories and see how the authors used them. You might be surprise to see how often they use the various devices.
  • Add them to both your fiction and non-fiction writing.
For a complete list, and the definition for the each rhetorical device (and figure of speech), check out the About.com Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis.
Do you consciously use rhetorical devices in your writing?

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Publishing Pulse for October 21, 2011

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to our newest success story, Jason Flum!

New to the QT database is Allison Hunter of Inkwell Management. She represents a variety of fiction and non-fiction, so make sure to check out the website for her interests.

Publishing News:

The National Book Awards caused a furor this week by accidentally including Lauren Myracle's novel Shine in the YA category. After admitting their error and saying they would allow the piece to stay, they eventually asked her to withdraw. She did. This created no shortage of outcry in the publishing world.

Books A Million has announced it will be taking over some former Borders bookstores.

Around the Blogosphere:

Agent Janet Reid discusses two novels she decided not to represent, and not for the reasons you'd normally assume.

Rachelle Gardner discusses platform in the changing publishing world.

Jessica Faust talks about the importance of reading your contract.

Literary Quote of the Week:
"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music-the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself." - Henry Miller

Thanks for reading, and until next week, keep those queries flying!


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Social Networking for Writers

By Ash Krafton | @AshKrafton

Note from Carolyn: Even now, before the publication of her first novel (see Ash's signature at the bottom of this post), Ash is such a successful networker that she maxed out the number of friends Facebook can handle, and had to create a fan page for her work.  Even more exciting? Her techniques are techniques everyone can manage. Read on for how she does it!

It's not going to do you any good to write an amazing book if you aren't going to do anything to promote it.

Writing is a solitary effort, right? But networking is a team sport all the way. When you emerge from your writing cave, shiny manuscript in hand, you should already have a plan on what you're going to do with it. Hopefully, it's not meant to sit in a drawer or in a computer file. You want that book out there, in the hands of hungry readers. That book was meant for the world.

And the world is not a solitary kind of place.

Odds are you aren't a famous authority on a huge platform of wisdom and fame. You may be more like me—a working mom who is trying to turn a hobby into a second job. Everyone starts small and so should we. First-time queriers agonize over the lack of an impressive bio in their query letter but few realize that often a solid online presence is enough to let an agent know you mean business.

Ever Google yourself? You should. If an agent is thinking about reading more of your work, she's definitely going to do it. Your online presence may be one of the first impressions you make.

Of course, one way to build your online presence is to get published, but that starts the whole chicken or egg type of quandary. There's a simpler way to start…and you are probably doing it already without realizing it.

It's called social networking.

Networking is key to the success and survival of your book. But it's a scary prospect for an emerging writer. You've written your first book, have no other publishing credits, don't have an agent or an inside track with a best-selling author, and have absolutely no courage to attend a conference…you're as good as anonymous. Who's going to listen to another faceless writer?

Thanks to the internet, you don't have to remain faceless. You don't have to remain friendless, either.

Twitter: Can't deny that I have been pulled into the Twitterverse, kicking and screaming. Unlike regular space, Twitterspace is not a vacuum. It's a human soup of news and interaction and connection. Thanks to dedicated readers like @Porter_Anderson, our blog gets tweeted with links and quotes to readers who may not be aware of our site.

Recently, I tweeted (from @ashkrafton) a shoutout with the question: What's your #networking magic bullet? I sent it out using Lazy Shout Out, a tool that helps me get a message out to all tweeps in a certain list. (Sounds like cheating but it's just good social media management.)

Here are some of the answers:

@eslarke Just being active on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. I interact with others and take part in discussions. 
@Bri_Clark I know my platform and it's natural for me to utilize it. I'm the belle of boise. 
@nancynaigle Friends like you are my #networking magic bullet :) I love meeting new people and gaining new perspectives! 
@jim_devitt there is no magic bullet, you've got to be hitting on all cylinders, that and have a good book! 
@wickedcoolflght …one of my best networking tools is @Paperbackdolls. 
@heidirubymiller reciprocation and interaction

Guess what? They are all right. Read that last tweet again: reciprocation and interaction. You can't network without putting some effort into it.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow each of the tweeps mentioned above. Once you do that, you can congratulate yourself for networking. Shoutouts aren't the only aspect of Twitter. You can retweet interesting tweets, too. I often pass on links to articles or inspirational quotes, anything I think my followers might find interesting. Sharing information is networking.

Facebook is another great way to network. Visit your friends' pages and add friends from their lists. Worst thing they can do is not accept your request, right? Visit the sites of writers who write like you do and add from their friend list as well. Also, when responding to friend requests, click the link that allows you to see “all requests.” Often it opens up the friend requests to reveal a few of *their* friends. Add them, too. You're building bridges to other people—and bridges form the structure of a network.

If you have an account, you already know it can be used to interact with friends, acquaintances, and peers, but don't forget the other kinds of pages. You can start an author page (mine is http://facebook.com/AshKraftonAuthor) and invite friends to “like” your page. (The invite page is on the right side.) There's an opportunity to buy an ad but I feel the potential bill would be too costly for an emerging writer like myself. You can also participate in groups and perhaps start one for your own writing. Make the group reader friendly and participate regularly. You'll be networking in no time at all.

Blogging is a quick and easy way for us to express ourselves outside our formal writing. Originally designed to be journals, blogs (short for web log) quickly evolved into an effective means of sharing information to a variety of audiences. Blogging platforms have evolved, as well, enabling us to connect with readers using friending and following functions. Blogger.com, Wordpress, and Livejournal are three of the biggest blogging platforms and can get you up and blogging in no time. I love how the blogs, in turn, offer RSS feed capabilities as well as Facebook's “Like” and Twitter's “Tweet This” buttons for easy sharing.

You shouldn't stop at writing a blog; you need to read them—and comment, too. When you comment, you have the opportunity to provide a direct link to your website or blog that other readers can follow. More readers, more friends, more connections.

Blog hops are a fun way to find new blogs that focus on your interests. I'll be participating in the Coffin Hop Horror Web Tour (October 24-31, 2011) along with a bunch of great horror writers. Readers can view a huge clickable list of different blogs and hop (okay, it's a Halloween hop, so I guess readers will lurch or stagger) from blog to blog. The blogs are offering prizes for commenters as well as showing off their writing chops.

What do writers get out of all of this? Exposure, of course. And exposure brings new readers and new connections to the other bloggers and all of it is (say it with me) networking.

According to an article from Author Marketing Experts, blog commenting doesn't need to turn into a time suck. Set a goal to leave a certain number a week. You may be surprised to hear that certain number doesn't need to astronomical, either—you can gain significant exposure by commenting on as few as three to five blogs per week. And set a time limit, too. I use a kitchen timer to limit how long I fool around network via blog comments.

Goodreads, anyone? You can link your blog to your Goodreads page and Tweet your reviews. My favorite part of Goodreads is the giveaway program. Recently I held my first giveaway; I offered an anthology from my publisher, Pink Narcissus Press, in August and every day I logged in just to see how many people entered. My giveaway ended up having several hundred entrants, which really had me chuffed. Even if only a small percent of them went back to check out the book, that's still more traffic than the book had before the giveaway. Several of the entrants made friend connections to my profile, as well. And that, friends, is networking.

Of course, these websites are the basic, most popular ones, but there is no reason you can't use them to your advantage. The “basics” are used by millions of people around the world—and that's a pretty big potential audience.

You don't have to be a Wizard of SEO or a nationally-known keynote speaker. Successful networking begins at your fingertips with a click of the mouse or a Tweet of an idea. Give your book the biggest chance to succeed by reaching out to new readers, one step at a time.

Networking really is that easy.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts, forthcoming in early 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Memos to Self

Courtesy of ilco

Recently, I've been heavily revising, rewriting, and generally fixing the first manuscript I wrote that has publishable potential. (There are a few manuscripts that came before, but they shall ever remain beneath my bed, guarded by killer dust bunnies.)

One of the best things about going back and working on a manuscript like this is learning how much I've learned in a year or two. One of the worst things is having to fix all those mistakes. I'm not talking storytelling mistakes, but the technical mistakes that relate to the actual typed document.

If I could talk to my younger self, these are a few of the things I'd mention:


Dear self,

Remember in middle school when you had to take that typing class? Remember how double spacing was pounded into your head? Well, things have changed. Double spacing is for typewriters; single spacing is for electronic documents. Like your manuscript.

Double spacing after the period isn't going to be the thing standing between you and a shiny publishing deal, but it is a pesky detail that will need to be fixed sooner or later. Why not just single space from the beginning and save yourself some time?


Which leads me to another happy little thing I learned the hard way.

Search and Replace Is Your Friend

Dear Self,

Remember how you wrote that story, and then you changed almost everyone's name? And remember how you found out about single spacing AFTER you'd already typed the entire novel in Word?

How about instead of going through and manually changing every name and deleting every extra space, you use the search and replace function? It'll save you hours of tedious work, and you'll thank me for this later. Just click on the "Edit" tab up at the top of the screen. Trust me on this one.


But, like all friends, the search and replace function watched like a hawk. Because if you don't: 

Search and Replace Isn't Always So Discriminating

Dear Self,

Remember that story where you couldn't figure out the name of your main character and went through a few before you discovered which name fit? And then remember how, being the savvy writer you are, you just did a search and replace to fix that?

Yeah, well, when you do this, make sure you click that little box that says "matching case only." Otherwise, you'll come up with some rather interesting terms that don't exist.



Dear Self,

Remember that typing class again? Remember how they taught you to use tabs whenever you get to the first line of a new paragraph?


Just don't. And if there's anything else you've learned from that typing class, do yourself a favor and just ignore the impulse to follow it.

Just make sure the document is formatted to indent the first line of each new paragraph.


Correct Punctuation

Dear Self,

You've always been an avid reader, but I really don't think you were paying attention to how the text was put together.

For instance, you use a comma only if you're using a dialogue tag. If what follows the quotation marks is a beat, then you use a period.


"Ah," said the dragon, licking its lips. "Dinner has arrived." 


"I really think I ought to be going now," the princess ducked behind a rock.


What about you? Any time saving tips you'd give your younger writer self?

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. The first 12 chapters of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA are available here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Publishing Pulse: 10/14/2011

Around the Internet

Want to be more creative? Find out why A Wrong Answer is a Creative Answer!

Have an important writing goal?  Contrary to popular wisdom, maybe telling others isn't such a great idea. Find out why in Why You Should Keep Your Goals Secret.

Working on a pitch for your novel? Literary agent Arielle Eckstut and author David Henry Sterry explain how to Make Pitches Perfect!

Do you do National Novel Writing Month, the challenge of which is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month? Check out Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner's post, What is NaNoWriMo?

Rachelle also gives some important advice on What Not to Say in a Query (specifically, in your author bio).

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has been running Ask the Editor posts, and the titular editor answers this question: How has the explosion of the e-reader and e-book market changed publishing, especially acquisition, marketing and sales expectations? And related, has the e-book market caused editors’ job duties to change? (Note: As you may guess from the site name, SBTB does have some language that may offend some visitors. You Have Been Warned.)

Finally, for the bloggers among you, ProBlogger offers this post on How to Make Any Good Blog Great!

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The dilemma of the too-nice author

This bears repeating because I've been seeing more of this lately. Good story, solid writing, popular genre, even a hook -- but flat in terms of tension. And the problem is, inevitably, that the author is too nice.

You love your characters. I get that -- I love mine too, and the proof of our love is that we spend several hundred hours writing and editing novels about these characters. We lavish them with our time and attention, we pass up television or events in order to spend time with them. We think about them while washing the dishes or driving to the grocery store. You may have bought an article of clothing because one of your characters wears it and then wear it to feel close to that character (**cough**yankeescap**cough**) and maybe you tried a food for the first time because you wanted your character to eat it too.

Okay, so you love the character. Here she is now at a crossroads of her life, and you turn the spotlight onto her and have her work out her problem.

The trouble is that you're too nice. Her problem isn't big enough. Or rather, you the author keep helping her solve it.  You can spot these stories because often they open with a world-shattering bang. The main character is in pieces. The main character then spends the next twenty chapters discovering just how many people love her and are willing to help. She tries something risky -- and succeeds! In fact, the stakes are never very high at all after that initial cataclysm. It's as if the writer is nurturing the main character, but at the expense of the story.

Here's something I need to tell you about your characters: they're stronger than you think they are.

Whenever they achieve something, they must do it by spending some kind of currency they didn't want to spend.

It's their choices that tell you what your character values. If your character goes into the grocery store to buy peanut butter so her kid can eat and sees a jar of Nutella, there's no tension if she picks up both and pays for both.

But if she has only $4, she can't buy both. She needs to make a choice, and her choice is going to tell you about her. She might buy the Nutella for herself and not give her kid the peanut butter. "Sorry, there's only bread tonight." She might buy the peanut butter and be sad about the Nutella. She may lie on the floor in front of the CoinStar machine groping for dropped quarters. She may beg the store manager to let her bag groceries for an hour so she can afford food for her kid. She might decide to steal the Nutella.

Not explode out that kind of small moment and make the overall tension bigger in your own story. What does your character achieve easily that he should achieve by sacrificing something else? If he gets the job of his dreams, maybe he can't continue his college degree. What if she can marry her Prince Charming, but that means leaving her family? Your character should be able to wonder, realistically, if whatever he's achieving is worth what it will cost.

Consider The Hunger Games. Katniss begins with two things she cannot live without: her sister, and her identity as a survivor. She's immediately faced with a choice, and she chooses to sacrifice the life she knows in order to save her sister. The stakes are immediately set as life-and-death, and with few breaks, they remain that way as Katniss finds over time that even survival isn't something she wants at all cost. In the end, she finds something worth more than even her life.

It's counterintuitive, but if your character's team wins 12-0, it's less climactic than if they win by one run in extra innings...on a hotly contested call, no less.

Quit being nice. Don't fulfill your wishes for yourself by coddling your character. There's a saying that iron sharpens iron, and it's true. Put iron outside your characters and you'll soon find the iron within.

Moreover, we'll have that book glued to our hands if we watch the character keep digging her way out of a pit only to find it's getting deeper and deeper.

Let's say you're writing a novel about a young widow, and your objective in the story is to get her to overcome her family situation to "live again." That's a fairly typical plot, right?

The nice author will show her learning the ropes as a single parent, but with help from her mom and the nice neighbor. Her job will give her time off when needed. Her children will have their struggles, but in general they pull together.

But now you're not going to be nice authors anymore, are you? Instead of being able to rely on her mom, the MC is actually taking care of her mother who's got serious health issues of her own. One of the children is having serious behavior problems. Your MC works for a boss who refuses to cut her any slack for "family time" and threatens to take her job if she clocks out early. She drives a ten year old car with a slipping transmission. In the past her neighbor stayed in check because he was afraid of her husband, but now...

Now you've got a setup. Now you have a fight worth fighting.

Put your main character against the wall, and then keep her there. If the book is 350 pages, then on page 320 the reader needs to believe there's no way out. (In fact, you yourself may be wondering if there's any way out.) Set her wants against each other. Pit her needs against each other. In the first chapter, give her two things she can't live without, and by the end of the book, make her give up the one to save the other.

Maybe she gets them both back in the end, but that's okay. Happy endings are another post. It just needs to be uphill most of the way to "ever after."


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency who has commanded me to get rid of the Yankee cap author photo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pathway to Publication: An Interview

One of Querytracker.net success stories recently landed a book contract with HaperTeen. Ryan Graudin was thrilled to share with us her story on her pathway to publication.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what tattoo she decides to get. (Yes, you will have to read the interview to see what I’m talking about).

Ryan, can you tell us what happened between the time you signed with your agent to the time HarperCollins told you they just had to have your book (i.e. offered you the contract)?: I signed with my lovely and awesome agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin in May. One of the great things about her is that she’s such a fast worker (i.e. has a very short reading/turnaround time). She got me her revision letter within the same month. Printed out it was 4 pages long… detailing scenes and big picture issues that she thought needed improving. I had a minor panic attack and then dove into insane work mode for about 3 weeks. My house was a wreck. There were notecards of scenes covering the living room floor and endless mugs of half-consumed tea and coffee. But while my abode suffered, my manuscript improved. I got it back to Alyssa in mid-June. It went through another small round of edits and then (after what felt like forever at the time) my book went out on submission in mid-July. Compared to a great majority of authors, I received my first positive response within a day!! The editor really loved it, but she still needed to finish it and get reads from her bosses. Once she acquired those she had to get the approval of several boards within HarperCollins before she could put together an offer! This whole process stretched out for about three weeks. I was an absolute mess the entire time. Just ask my poor, patient husband.

Now that you’re going to be published, is there anything you wish you had done differently before you were agented? I wish I’d written more for myself in college (as opposed to writing only for class). Also, the first book I queried never got picked up, but I spent almost 4 months writing its sequel before I switched my efforts to LUMINANCE HOUR. Generally writing the sequels to books that aren’t picked up is a poor use of your time… I learned the hard way.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? While I was writing the first draft of LUMINANCE HOUR, I was working a 45-hour a week teaching job in a foreign country. My life was busy with outside work, traveling and handling the stress of living half a world away from everyone I knew. I was amazed that, although the rest of my life was so crammed, I was still able to piece together this fully formed and functional novel! “I don’t have the time” is not an excuse to not write. If you’re determined enough, you can make the time.
Is there anything you’ve done that you feel helped you grow as a writer? I took a lot of formal writing classes all throughout middle school, high school and college. These did help my writing, but I think most importantly they showed me the value of critique partners. Another thing I’m passionate about which has really grown my writing is traveling. Last time I counted, I’ve been to more foreign countries than I have states. Seeing so many different cultures, people and places helps me broaden the stories I’m able to tell. In fact, LUMINANCE HOUR probably wouldn’t have come into being if I hadn’t had the awesome opportunity to visit London and walk through Buckingham Palace when I was younger. Much of the story takes place in that palace, and my experience of being there in person was invaluable!
What’s the wackiest thing you did in researching your novel? How much research was involved in writing your novel? I had to do a fair bit of research for this story: having words translated into Old English by one of my former English professors, acquiring a floorplan of Buckingham palace, scraping my memories from the two trips I took to London when I was 13 and 17, reading dictionaries on British spirits and folklore. I also watched a good deal of the Queen’s official YouTube channel. And I spent a lot of time talking in my fake and probably terrible British accent. Do any of those qualify as wacky?
Any quirky writing habits? I have to be listening to music. Generally it doesn’t matter what kind of music. Rap, Pop, Soundtracks, String Quartets. My iTunes is a mess of genres. Also, I cannot write unless I have some sort of hot drink at my side. Coffee, tea, cocoa, chai. This often leads to me being over-caffeinated. And I have to open my Internet browser at least once every 10 minutes. It’s amazing that I get anything done!
If you could give one piece of writing advice, what would it be? Just one? How about I give you three. Work your butt off. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t give up.
What did you to do to celebrate signing with your agent? How about when you celebrated signing the book contract? Champagne. On both occasions. My husband and I are both “starving” artists at this point in our lives, so it was a real treat when my parents took us out for shrimp and grits (my favorite Southern dish) to celebrate the book contract! Also, I’m thinking of getting a tattoo to mark the occasion… but that’s still in the works.
If you could have one superhero power or paranormal ability, what would it be? To write a rough draft in the span of a single day! Just kidding. Seeing as I love travel, I would probably want to teleport everywhere. It would save so much time and money. Plus I could see all of my friends around the world whenever I wanted!
Bio: When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery Godmother who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at Ryan Writes. Her twitter handle is @ryangraudin.