Location, Location, Location

While I’m sitting in my favorite cafe in my lovely neighborhood of Astoria, I’m thinking about the importance of place in the writing process. As much of a writing & literature enthusiast as I am, I am also a cafe enthusiast. Being able to find a place where I feel comfortable enough to stay for hours on end without feeling judged or ridiculed by the owners is important to me. Plus, I’m becoming enough of a regular here that I get the “Hey!” greeting when I come in. Sense of family in unexpected places isn’t so much important to me as it is just fun, but I enjoy it all the same.

For whatever reason, when I am in my apartment I cannot concentrate. It’s not the actual apartment either. It’s been this way in every place I’ve lived. There’s Internet and TV and free food in my apartment! How can writing compete with all that? (Note: I can’t read in my apartment either, at least not what I’m “supposed to be” reading.) That’s why seeking a comfortable place outside the home matters so much to me in my professional life.

Where do you all go to do your best work? Do you have a separate office in your apartment (that I am jealous of)? Is Starbucks your best friend? Or do you sit under a tree in a park to wait for inspiration?

Further, just how important is location to you as writers anyway?

Have a good weekend, everyone! And as you think about your favorite writing spot, I leave with you this AMAZING BLOG that I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered: The Daily Corgi (and no, I do not have a corgi, but as many of you have figured out from reading this blog, I desperately want one!)

Methods to the Madness

Every writer has a different approach to writing, a different method. My writing process, for example, has to involve a pen and paper (at least at first), and a very fragmented style. Meaning, if I get a scene in my head, or even just a line I think sounds good, I write it down. It is never, ever the opening paragraph. Then I’ll get an idea for a different scene, and write that, but it is rarely the scene that directly follows what I just wrote. Eventually they all come together.

There are also linear writers who can’t move on until the opening scene is secure. That, to me, would take forever. I’d be staring at a blank sheet of paper for hours if I was forced to think of beginning before I could continue. But they would probably think my process takes forever, and then we’d both disagree with someone else’s third approach.

Other choices writers are faced with when deciding which method works best for them are usually along the lines of “paper or computer?” “inside or outside?” or “gin or coffee?” But, the process that most fascinates me about writing is revision. You cannot be a writer and not revise. And then revise again. Something unavoidable, like the actual writing of words themselves, often means that it involves an entirely different approach.

I love revising more than I love writing a first draft. I don’t usually finish a first draft before I begin revising what I already wrote. But of course, there are those who loathe the revision process with a passion that rivals our collective disdain of whoever slighted Sandra Bullock this week. What are your methods and opinions on revising? I have a feeling you’re all going to say something different.

Lastly, something else that I’ve been wondering lately, as I ask for revisions, is what do writers prefer to hear from agents or editors? Would “complete re-write” would induce vomiting? Is it better to hear “add more” rather than “delete?” Things to ponder…

Enjoy the hot weekend everyone!

Happily Ever After

I once had a teacher who claimed there was no such thing as a happy ending in “great” literature. By great, I can only assume she meant those classic novels which are still taught and/or have been revered and loved throughout history (The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, etc).
This brings me to my question of the day – What is the best novel with a happy ending? As in, truly, 100% happy. (I have a thesis-like response at the ready for anyone who says Pride and Prejudice!)

In the way that most “great” writers are tainted by pain, loss, or addiction, do novels need to suffer the same fate in order to be respected?

It’s Not Me, It’s You (Or, My Breakup With Vampires)

Something that always surprises me when I’m reading a perfectly decent query is when a vampire shows up and ruins everything. The havoc the vampire wreaks on the characters is nothing compared to the damage it does to me personally. I read about four vampire queries in a row yesterday, which is what got me thinking about this, but truthfully I’ve been thinking about my relationship with vampires for a while. They once held a pretty special place in my heart. 
It was a sad day for me the first time I rolled my eyes at a vampire book, and an even sadder one when I audibly groaned in frustration. You see, writers, I was once, as they say, really into vampires. Which is also to say, I totally get their appeal. The reason vampires have stood the test of time, other than immortality, is that they can be the perfect hero and the perfect villain at the same time. On their worst days, they want to kill you, and on their best days, they still want to kill you, but feel bad about it.

They are also eternally sexy. Let’s put aside the metaphors involved with them wanting to control you and suck you dry. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that they never look older than 30, they’re mysterious, and for some reason they all seem to have mastered the art of dry wit. Sure they’re dangerous, but what’s hotter than knowing that after being around the block for centuries upon centuries, they still want only you. Even Dracula had a soft spot for Mina, and he’s Dracula!

Before I really knew what sexy was, I fell in love with vampires through Christopher Pike books that were probably too old for me, and through cheesy ’80s movies like Once Bitten and My Best Friend is a Vampire (both amazing by the way – add them to your Netflix queue now!). I also let my angsty self out in reading The Book of Nod (also too old for me) and being mildly fascinated by goth culture and vampire lore. 
Then Buffy, the Vampire Slayer came along. I was a fan of the movie because it is hilarious and Luke Perry is in it. The show, however, is one of the best written shows of all time. It hooked me immediately and I still watch it pretty much everyday in syndication. Seeing the show was also the first time I said, hey, vampires are sexy as hell (no pun intended).

There was definitely teen vampire lit to be read, and I enjoyed the less sexy – but still sexy in a “I might have issues” way – vampire horror. In adulthood, even in the midst of vampire mania, I enjoy the modernized vampires of Charlaine Harris and Jeri Smith-Ready and the villainous vamps of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain trilogy (also looking forward to reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage!). 

That said, the reason those queries I mentioned were surprising to me is because I can’t believe people are still trying to pitch vampire books. Despite everything, aren’t we sick of them yet? The answer from the industry standpoint should be yes, but I guess what should be more surprising is that these books are still being sold. To me, vampires have jumped the shark. I don’t really blame Twilight, but it’s an easy scapegoat. Twilight didn’t start anything that wasn’t already there. Edward, after all, is just a poor man’s Angel. All Stephanie Meyers really did was reaffirm that nothing is the new vampire, nor will something ever be. But she also reawakened a craze that proved perhaps there can be too much of a good thing.

So, vampires, you’ve shown me, with the above-mentioned modern examples, that you still have what it takes to be in my life. But unfortunately, that’s not enough for me anymore. You’ve changed. I liked that you were starting to show a softer side; I was even excited about it. Then things got out of control. You were showing up in places you didn’t belong: classic literature, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and prime-time network television. You’re everywhere and you’re becoming a mockery of yourselves. We can still be friends, of course. I just need space. I’m in a place in my life right now where I need more stability. I need to know you’ll always be the person I fell in love with, and I hope once you get this madness out of your system, you’ll be able to find that side of you again. It just won’t be any time soon, I’m afraid, so I must say goodbye for now. 

We’ll always have Nod…

Dear Sir or Madam

And so begins The Beatles’ writer’s anthem, “Paperback Writer,” whose lyrics are quite possibly the best example of what not to do in a query letter. (You may also remember my former colleague’s brilliant dramatic interpretation of these lyrics, here.) Generally, if you begin your query with the above-mentioned salutation, the agent you are querying will either a) groan, b) make fun of you via Twitter, or c) delete your query unread (this is a worst-case-scenario). 
There was a really great blog post today on Write It Sideways called Will Literary Agents Really Read Your Query Letter? that I think basically every writer who’s querying needs to read. Among their reasons why YOUR query might be getting deleted without even being read are:
  1. The manuscript is incomplete (if fiction)
  2. The agent doesn’t represent the author’s genre
  3. The letter isn’t personalized, but is part of a mass query (Dear agent…)
  4. The author hasn’t taken the time to research how to write a proper query letter
  5. The author hasn’t followed that agent’s submission guidelines
  6. The query or sample pages (if requested in the guidelines) are sent as an attachment
As a newer agent, and a writer myself, the term “instantly deleted” is terrifying, even if I’m the one doing the deleting. I try to be fair and give writers the benefit of the doubt. I’m aware that querying is hard. That said, agents, myself included, get easily frustrated when people don’t query “correctly” because there are a bazillion resources online on how to write a proper query, not to mention the agent-specific guidelines. (I’ve also heard writers complain that “it’s confusing because every agent has different guidelines.” This is true, but the differences aren’t usually that vast. If a writer can’t take the time to make minor adjustments, it’s not that unfair of a stretch to think, “Geesh, what’ll it be like if I ask for a revision?”)

Of the above examples of “potential instant deletion,” I’m guilty of #3 and #6. I delete mass queries and queries sent as attachments for what I hope are obvious reasons. (This includes “click this link for my query” emails.) I assume it is spam, and therefore it is dead to me. 

I also instantly delete “pre-queries” because they are so incredibly stupid. In case you don’t know (which I hope you, dear blog readers, don’t), pre-queries are emails that basically just ask if the writer can send a query. The answer is always, “YES! JUST SEND IT! WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME WITH SUCH A DUMB QUESTION!?” So, instead of getting an all-caps rant, they just get deleted.

There are agents out there, usually the more seasoned ones, who will delete your query for lesser reasons than the ones I mentioned above. You don’t want to fall victim to an instant deletion, so while it is a lot to remember and can be frustrating to accommodate to, pay attention to agent-specific guidelines and pet peeves; read articles and blog posts like the one on Write It Sideways; and stop sending things as attachments. Almost NO agent ever accepts attachments unless he or she asks for it. It might be the one guideline every agent agrees on. 

One last note: there is no such person as Curtis Brown. I am not Mr. or Ms. Brown. Thanks 🙂