In Virtual Reality, What Can’t We Do?

Social networking continues to prove just how powerful it is, more so now in the past few months than ever. When people aren’t using it to oust dictators or organize movements, they are using it simply to connect. I have said before that people who scoff at Twitter, or think online-only friends can’t have real value, clearly have no idea what social media is, and should therefore not talk about it.

Since I just can’t stop talking about Joss Whedon lately, I thought I’d use the latest utilization of the Internet to segue into my topic today. God-among-nerds, Nathan Fillion, recently said in an interview that if won $300 million from the California lottery, then he’d buy the rights to Firefly and distribute it online. Well, the geek world went nuts and a few devoted Browncoats launched this website to “Help Nathan Buy Firefly.” Firefly‘s cancellation is hardly akin to Middle Eastern oppression, but hey, some of us need to create our own problems.

This bit of nerd news does have a point. Cult favorite TV shows like Firefly and Arrested Development have been off the air for over five years, but these shows in particular never seem to have died. This is arguably because of the Internet. Getting canceled these days is not what it used to be. Fans have voices now, and they can mobilize. These are the people who got Family Guy back on the air. Even though I don’t watch Family Guy, the impact that had is not lost on me. A network listened and maybe it’ll happen again with other cult shows…

… But what about cult books?

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your favorite book goes out of print? Probably not – we live in the age of Espresso Book Machines and ebooks, after all. But what about those pulpy noir paperbacks with the awesome covers that, try as they might, just can’t get reprinted. Or what if (heaven forbid!) an agent can’t seem to give away those darn ebook rights? There are so many titles that have fallen by the wayside for either being too old, not frontlist-worthy, or the estates are holding them back. What’s a reader to do?

What would happen if the social media savvy decided to save books the same way they do for canceled beloved TV shows? Do you think they’d stand a chance? If Margaret Atwood or David Foster Wallace were suddenly pulled from the shelves, would publishers notice a public outcry?

Once, Twice, Thrice

If you’re a member of Team Coco like I am, you may know that Conan O’Brien launched a campaign to bring the word “thrice” back into our daily lexicon. While I have little occasion to use the word, I fully support this endeavor. There are probably tons of words that have fallen out of the mainstream that are due for a comeback.

And so I ask you – what words do you want to see return?

For me, I like the word “scram.” I always have and think it’s hilarious. And why don’t people get called “nimrod” anymore? Or hear people say “forthwith?” These are valuable words, people! If we, The Literary Ones, don’t bring them back, who will? The Save the Words website can only do so much!

So what say you? Which words do you want to rescue from obscurity before they permanently fall to the wayside?

What I Learned Over Christmas Vacation

Welcome back, friends! After a blogless week and a half, I’m very happy to be back, well-rested, and ready for another year of Glass Cases submissions. Last year, I took an extended break from NYC and many life lessons were learned. This year, even though I was back in good ol’ Queens after Christmas, I’m again sharing my top five points of self-discovery and interest.
I can consume a lot of food:
After weeks of eating nothing but cupcakes and various cookies that were brought into the office, I went upstate to my parents’ house and ate for pretty much four days straight. I should also point out that nothing I ate was a vegetable, unless you count the ones that were baked in heavy cream. I think I saw a strawberry once, but I was distracted by the cheesecake underneath it. I was simultaneously disgusted and happy, but it made me appreciate living in a close proximity to Trader Joe’s, where I can go to fill my cupboards with flax seed chips and edamame once again. 
I am a fairly decent bowler and awesome at board games.
Life upstate is a simple one, and I think I’d win at it. Too bad I like living somewhere eight million times more complicated. (Remind me why that is, again?)
Whatever happens in the future, there will always be a way to say “fuck.”
I read a book over the holidays. I know, I know, what else is new, right? But, this book was different…. this was read FOR FUN. What a concept! The winning novel was Across the Universe by Beth Revis. It was a disturbing and beautifully written YA sci-fi novel that you all should definitely buy. (Some might classify it as a dystopian, but I’m not.) While enjoying the concept, characters, and strong romance, I was also pleased to learn that in whatever future/parallel universe we live in (whether we’re frexing on Revis’ ship, Godspeed, or killing frakking toasters on the Battlestar Galactica), we’ll have a fun, new replacement for our most diverse curse word.
The radio is a wonderful thing.
As someone who doesn’t drive or have an ipod, listening to music while commuting isn’t something I consider a necessity. But the radio is amazing – mostly because in my hometown, it is always 1996 and my favorite local DJs of yore are still employed, crankin’ out those hits from such newcomers as Days of the New and Oasis. Never underestimate the power of singing by yourself while behind the wheel, especially if you intentionally pull up to the car next to you so they can judge/admire you.
Change should happen naturally:
Perhaps this is a more passive view on life, but much like my former colleague, Nathan Bransford, my word for 2010 was “transition.” Many a-changes were made in 2010 and I think I’m all the better for it. But if anyone follows me on Twitter, you may remember that I decided to take this “whole new Sarah” approach to life a step further and try to intentionally do things I’d rather soon ignore. With only a few days into the new year, I am already putting an end to this plan. See also: unless you’ve spent your year in a ditch, on crack, beaten, and without friends, then you probably don’t need to be so adamant about change.
I’m very excited about 2011 and the work I can do as an agent, a writer, and as your humble blogger. Thanks for entering another year with me and don’t forget to submit those stories!

Here We Are Now; Entertain Us

I’ve been noticing something for the past couple of weeks. I was trying to ignore it, but now other events, that are just as strange, have made that impossible. Friends, on the streets of New York, I’ve been seeing… scrunchies. I’m not talking about the occasional sighting in tourist-ridden Times Square or on the ironically nostalgic streets of Brooklyn. No, these scrunchies are appearing on subways, in Greenwich Village, and in my very own neighborhood. In other words, they’ve hit the mainstream. I mean, what would Carrie Bradshaw say!?

I was willing to let this go. But then, last week on Twitter I saw that #why90srocked was trending, and Monday night on Conan, CAKE performed. Throw in the way-too-soon-and-downright-evil reboot of Buffy and the fact that teenagers all over the country think that being trendy means dressing like me in 3rd grade, and we have one viable conclusion – the ’90s are back.

This is sad to me for two reasons. The main reason is that, since fashion and trends are cyclical, this means that my generation is now the previous generation. This is depressing on an obvious level, not that we all didn’t see this coming. The other reason the ’90s being back is worrisome is because pretty soon we’re all going to have to re-learn, the hard way, that snap bracelets hurt!

As a ’90s enthusiast, however, I’m excited about the return to what I consider the most interesting decade in modern history (pipe down, ’60s fans, I got your back too). I won’t pretend I fully understood the cultural impact the ’90s had on the country at the time; I’m only now, in my late twenties, beginning to process what I had missed while I was busy growing up.

But, to me, the ’90s symbolized hope. Civil rights, including those of women and LGBT (an acronym, by the way, that started in the ’90s), were by no means where they needed to be, but it felt as if equality was finally on the way. Clinton started DADT, and while that was a bad decision (my blog = my opinion), it still managed to spark a national debate, one that is still very present in the news almost twenty years later. Yet, twenty years before that, I doubt anyone would have even noticed yet another government mandated form of intolerance. We probably wouldn’t have been told it was going on.

More than that, the ’90s, in retrospect only, represent the “before.” Better days, if you will, whatever that means. In the way that “post-war” became attached to literature, film, and even architectural structures after World War II, the phrase “post-9/11” infiltrated our culture in what we read, watch, and how we act. With that one morning, the economically positive, civil rights-defending, overall hopefulness of the ’90s came to a screeching halt. (I’m not, by the way, suggesting that 9/11 is the source of our current financial crisis. It is NOT. Just want to make that clear.) In the early ’00s, we managed to reinstate socially acceptable racism, only this time with a different face. We had a president who not only encouraged this, but he gave the racism a catchy name (“Axis of Evil”). Suddenly having a cowboy in the White House seemed more logical; I guess so he could play his role in the disaster film we were currently living.

The post-9/11, post-’90s world also created a wave of conservatism that, in addition to racial minorities, gays and women were back to being targets – with fewer voices willing to dissent this time around. The idea of two men or  two women getting married is an actual debate. This should say everything there is to say about the way we (America) feel is acceptable behavior. Likewise, a qualified, intelligent, and, yes, ambitious woman was thisclose to being president, and yet she is still, to this day, being denigrated for her choice in clothing, rather than being challenged on her policies. Likewise, I doubt Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell would receive even a fraction of “credibility” were it not for their darn physical attractiveness.

We live in a time of The Tea Party, a hate group that has not gained such national attention and support since the early days of the KKK. If the ’90s are coming back, I say bring it on. I’ll suffer through a Vanilla Ice comeback tour if it means returning to a time not dictated by fear and hate.

I don’t usually get so political here, so I’d like to state again that my blog represents my opinion only. Please respect it, especially in the comments section, and I’ll do the same for you.

Now, that said – what does all of this have to do with you as writers? Well, everything. Writers are the ones who get to dictate what’s remembered. We’re both a reflection of, and a cause of, what is happening around us.  The bestselling fiction authors of the 1990s do not differ too much from what we see today. It seems there will always be a Grisham, King, or Koontz novel on that list somewhere. Only now our terrorists and monsters represent different things than before. Will we see a return to Anne Rice vampires? Bridges over Madison, or other, counties? What about books like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, that represented a decade so perfectly, the way Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis represented the ’80s? Books written “about the time” in the ’00s were automatically labeled post-9/11. It practically became its own genre. Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs comes to mind, but there are others.

Did you know that the New York Times didn’t even have a Children’s Best Seller List until 2000? Apparently they wanted Harry Potter to get off the “real” list, so they gave it its own place. Writers, this speaks volumes of the power you have now.

We’re lucky enough to have finally returned to generation that doesn’t need to be pre- or post- anything. And when the previous generation returns, it means one thing – a new one has just begun. Contribute to its discourse, write its history, and, most importantly, entertain us.


“And I am a writer, writer of fictions, I am the heart that you call home; And I’ve written pages upon pages, trying to rid you from my bones.” – The Decemberists, The Engine Driver

In a recent writing session, I asked former colleague/YA writer/all around awesome person, Tracy Marchini, when she gave her novels their titles. The answer: “right away.” Under normal writing circumstances, I wouldn’t have even asked because obviously the title comes first. But this wasn’t a normal writing circumstance for me – I was writing fiction.

As most of you know from following the blog, I’m (painfully slowly) writing some YA fiction at the moment (again, a painfully long moment that will someday lead to a finished novel, I hope). I’m enjoying the process immensely, when I find the time for it, but in my mind, I still would not refer to myself as a writer of fiction. To me, I’m still a personal essayist who simply ran out of (true) things to say for the time being.

With my non-fiction, which includes these blog posts, I think of a title first. Sometimes that’s all I have. I either think it sounds clever or captures the spirit of what I’m writing about. With essays, themes are layered, but they usually revolve around the same central issue. Novels rarely can be wrapped up so tightly. Their titles range from encapsulating an idea to a particularly good line of dialogue to a one-word, thought-provoking concept. The endless possibilities make my brain hurt, which is why the file currently frowning at me from my desktop reads “UntitledYA.doc.”

How do you all think of titles? Do they come first or do you, as the quote above says, write pages upon pages before you can rid title-block from your bones?

Soccer = Publishing (Because it’s the Only Way I’ll Care)

The World Cup ended yesterday. Once again, Gryffindor beat Slytherin by 150 points after the snitch was caught in the final thirty seconds. Very exciting!

While this past month has had my very European neighborhood of Astoria, NY quite literally buzzing with excitement, I felt mostly bored. That is, until, I came up with this analogy. Soccer = Publishing!

Both have…

Winners. You know, those teams that will obviously make it far. (I’m told Brazil is one of these teams. And now apparently Spain.) In publishing, these teams are called the Big 6 (the top six publishing houses). Or they are stores like Barnes & Noble and, or agents like Andrew Wylie. (If you don’t know who he is, read this or this. Then feel free to be terrified.)

Underdogs. The United States, for example, which is probably the only time we will ever be the underdog in anything, other than a “Can You Speak Two Languages?” contest. Publishing’s underdogs are the indies. The locals. The ones you root for and support even when it’s hard to do so. 

Competition. Publishing is insanely competitive (agents vying for clients, editors vying for projects, price wars, etc.). But, at its core, it’s really just all for the love of the game. I don’t think there is another sport as unifying as soccer. 

Divas. We call them “writers.” (But we still love you.)

A Tiny Fan Base (if you are in America). While publishing appears to be our whole lives – with blogs and tweets and personalities who become like celebrities to us – it is still a very small, very specific world that most other people don’t know anything about, and care about even less. I’m pretty sure other countries still refer to us as the publishing industry though, rather than, say, football.

So, writers, when you get that request or sign that contract, sound your vuvuzelas because even though most people don’t understand the things that we do or the words that we say (query? recoverable? galley?), there ARE people who care! And we want you to win.

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 🙂

Teen Writer Week!

I declare this week in the name of teenagers! 
In case you were not aware, there are some pretty awesome teens out there right now who are writing fabulous and impressive books that you’re going to want to read. So, I decided to devote a week on Glass Cases to some of these wunderkinds, including interviews, discussions, and other fun things. 
To start things off, let me share two of my favorite teen writers – who are no longer teens! – S.E. Hinton and Nick McDonell. To me, The Outsiders was the first real YA novel. It was published when the author was only 16 years old, which means she was writing it when she was about 14. At that age, she managed to capture perfectly the pains of adolescence (in boys, no less!) and created some of the most memorable characters of all time in the process. My heart still breaks for Ponyboy. I just want to hug him, and that feeling only intensifies the more times I read it as an adult. 

The other author, Nick McDonell, is one I’ve mentioned before back when I read his first novel, Twelve. This was published in 2003 and written when the author was just 17. Again, the depth of his characters and awareness of what is happening in the outside world is so astute in that “beyond-his-years” way that I just could not get over. I definitely wouldn’t call Nick McDonell a YA author, even though his characters are teens/young adults. Rather, Twelve, read more like a 21st century Bright Lights Big City, which to me only made it seem more impressive and his age that much more unbelievable. 

Both The Outsiders and Twelve, while very different from each other, also have crossover appeal, which isn’t easy in YA in general, let alone by novels written by teenagers themselves. 

I also want to mention the first teen writer I was ever truly inspired by. When I was 14 and at the height of my love of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (OK, so there was no “height” so much as a never-ending devotion that continues to this day), a teen/vampire/romance novel came out called In The Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, who was also 14 at the time. I read about the release of her book in Seventeen magazine and was so excited that someone my own age was not only a published author, but writing about stuff I loved. They just don’t make books like that for teens anymore, unless you count pretty much all of them. Go back and read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes! Like L.J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries, Night World) and Annette Curtis Klause (The Silver Kiss, Blood and Chocolate) she was a pioneer in this genre that has absolutely exploded. 
So, in case you just joined us, we’re talking about books written by teens (note: not necessarily for teens) here on Glass Cases all week! Who are some of your favorite teen writers? And if you are a teen writer, feel free to share your inspirations/what you write in the comments below.

Stay tuned for profiles on Steph Bowe, Kody Keplinger, and Weronika Janczuk!

Jane Austen Has Destroyed Us All

Since it comes free with my new nook, I’ve been re-reading Pride and Prejudice (pay no attention to that print version on my shelf). Now, before I explain the title of this post, let me just say that this book is easily one of the best written of all time. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to be different. It proves its timelessness in its prose and plot. Its characters remain complex and familiar and, let’s face it, perfectly constructed. Along with The Great Gatsby and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Pride and Prejudice would be put on my imaginary syllabus to my imaginary class called “This Is Everything a Novel Should Be!”

OK, now let’s trash it.

I first fell in love with Ms. Austen in college. I had never read her before, but through some turn of events, I ended up in a seminar devoted entirely to her. We read all six novels, some of her letters, and (get ready to swoon, ladies!) watched the Pride and Prejudice mini-series with Colin Firth. Before taking this class, I assumed that Jane Austen wrote the fluffy chick lit of her time. In fact, one might even say I had a prejudice against her for this reason.

But, even before her actual writing proved me wrong, I learned that Jane was a huge cynic when it came to love and hated being around children. Surprised and sympathetic, I respected her even more. In knowing her real-life feelings on marriage and children and “what’s expected,” I could see her winking at me from behind the pages when her characters inevitably got their “happy” ending.

Again, I say all of this about her with love and admiration. However, it wasn’t until reading Pride and Prejudice again that I realized the true extent of her cynicism. She is downright cruel in a way that I bet she didn’t even anticipate.

While I’m sure this has been pointed out before in the thesis papers of English and Film majors alike, Pride and Prejudice has been arguably the template for almost every piece of women’s fiction/chick lit novel and romantic comedy ever produced. Not all, but a lot of them. Man meets woman; woman hates man; man hates woman; both find each other attractive; both resist; they keep running into each other; sexual tension builds; man and woman get married.

By creating this formula, Jane Austen was inadvertently responsible for today’s stereotype (reality?) that women fall for jerks. In essence, she’s been ruining the lives of women for 200 years. Sure, it’s paid off in some ways. She is, after all, responsible for Sam and Diane’s banter on Cheers and the careers of Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. But she’s also responsible for Bridget Jones’ diary, for all of our diaries that lament over the man who just won’t change his ways. She’s why Carrie ends up with Big!
Even in my favorite Austen novel, Emma, Emma plays the role of the jerk who needs changing, while Mr. Knightly, oh perfect, love-of-my-life that he is, plays the role of the wise outsider, disdaining Emma’s superficiality while falling in love with her. Perhaps Jane was trying to explore the question, “Why do the hot, kinda bitchy girls always win?” But that’s a topic for the men to analyze. I’ll stick with women and our Darcy-complex.

As I’ve said before, sometimes people just suck. In reality, unless something particularly profound happens to them, these people rarely change, so why should we expect anything more in our books or films? I know, I know. Now, I’m sounding like the cynic. So I’ll clarify by admitting that I do see the value of the hope Jane’s formula provides and I believe that love sometimes can be that profound thing that happens to the aforementioned “jerks.” However, these constant, poorly executed remakes are making women appear dumb. I think this needs to stop. If reality reflects entertainment which reflects reality, then one of these things needs to change.

I’m left with two questions:

1) Why has this notion – that is, the notion that we will be the one to change him because deep down, he’s really just Mr. Darcy – been perpetuated for as long as it has?

2) Which came first – literature influencing our relationships, or our relationships influencing literature?

Maybe it’s both, but one thing is for sure – We can drop all the zombies we want into Jane’s work. We can even allow Anne Hathaway to make Jane fall in love on screen and let the malnourished Keira Knightley destroy everything holy about Lizzie Bennett. And no matter how many times we roll her over in her grave, she is clearly getting the last laugh.

Things I Learned Over Christmas Vacation

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you all enjoyed your holidays. Due to New Year’s/life plans falling through, I ended up spending a whole extra week at my parent’s house in upstate New York. It was the longest amount of time I’ve spent there since the days of college breaks. Intensity. But now I’m back (!) and here are some bits of knowledge I’ve gained about myself and life in general:

When I’m away from New York for too long, I get twitchy: After the excitement and overall family craziness of Christmas wore off, it took me all of a day to begin pining for NYC. Parental home is all well and good; I just feel better when I’m in New York is all.

When I leave city limits of any kind, I get twitchy: My hometown is technically a city, albeit a very small one. However, compared to its surrounding towns, it might as well be Paris. I crossed the border exactly twice, once with me driving and once a friend drove, and both times I stared out the window with equal parts confusion, awe, and terror as the streetlights became fewer and farther between and bars that look like houses appeared more and more alongside the road. Call me a city wuss, but that much darkness and open space scares me.

More Human than Human by White Zombie is the greatest song of all time: The single best moment of my week, and possibly life, was driving by myself on the NYS Thruway blasting this song and singing along when I could. Now I know what Tom Cruise felt like when he did that ‘Free Fallin” scene in Jerry Maguire.

Craig Ferguson is funny: Has this always been the case? Was I blinded by Conan that whole time?

I don’t read when I’m away from home: I know; it’s a travesty, but apparently I need the ever-relaxing quiet of the New York City subway system to enjoy a good book.

Coffeehouses make everything better: On a lazy day off, I usually head to my local cafe, sit down with a book, and hang out for a few hours. Having to ask permission to use the car made this luxury a little harder to satisfy, but I managed to support my favorite local business and get some much-needed coffee breaks at the same time. For me, going to a coffeehouse isn’t so much about drinking a cup of coffee as it is a lifestyle choice essential to my mental survival. I’m not exactly sure how I became this way, but I will guess that the “favorite local business” I speak of was directly responsible.

The gift that keeps on giving is definitely a nook: Seriously.

Well, folks. I guess that’s about it. It’s good to be back. I’m excited for sharing some new stories, seeing more of YOUR work (that’s right, I’m talking to you, people who haven’t submitted yet!), and starting a new decade!