Thursday, March 31, 2011


I experienced my first Romantic Times Convention about four years ago. My publisher invited me, offering to pay expenses and promising I’d fit in. I thanked them profusely, of course, but had to admit I was baffled. Why a convention meant for romance readers and writers? I wrote supernatural suspense and paranormal thrillers. The most romantic element in any of the books was a character checking out her neighbor’s cute butt as he walked across her lawn. Still, the publisher persisted, stating all would go well, so I went.

And wouldn’t you know it, they were right! Not only did I have a marvelous time, I made a ton of new friends and quickly realized that the thread connecting us all together had little to do with genre. It was love of the written word.

Well, I’m making my second trip to RT next week, only this time without my former publisher’s credit card. My latest release, The Wolven,a paranormal romance, has been nominated for a RT Reviewers Choice Award (still not quite sure what that is, but it sounds cool!), so how can I not go, right?

In prepping for the trip, I thought back to my first RT Convention and remembered all the great promotional items so many authors had offered. Custom key chains, fingernail files, candy treats, whistles, fridge magnets—their creativity—and the swag—was endless. What could I bring to the convention that would be different, fun, cool, and stand out amongst the TON of giveaways?

Believe it or not, the answer came to me while perusing the aisles of a Halloween tradeshow, which I attended two weeks ago. I was chatting with my escort, Mr. Handsome Hanf, and as we cornered one of the aisles I spotted something that brought me to a dead-stop. It was an eight-foot werewolf—or more accurately, a Hollywood-grade werewolf costume that had been placed on a mannequin. The massive fangs, yellow and grunged, were bared, giant hands extended, displaying claws that were longer than my fingers. My mind went into overdrive.

Danyon Stone, the male lead in The Wolven, transforms into a werewolf. What if . . .

The ‘what if’ that got me. It always does. I might have just found that ‘something different!’

Imagine this . . .
A six-foot vinyl poster of The Wolven’s cover, which, as you can see below, beautifully displays the hunky Danyon Stone, standing near the flow of constant foot traffic. . . and beside that poster will be Danyon’s alter ego--a live, eight-foot, black-furred werewolf, only this one sans the grunged teeth. He’ll have pearly whites, be collared, chained, and ready to have his picture taken with anyone daring to get close enough!

Although they’ve never seen it done before, the folks at RT have bravely given me the green light on this little adventure. So fingers crossed. If you catch news bites on CNN about a werewolf on the loose in Los Angeles . . . you’ll know the gig went well. :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing While Napping

by Sara Rosett

My novel writing career began during naptime.

I had many false starts on a novel, but wasn’t getting anywhere. I always seemed to hit a wall at, oh, about Chapter Two, so I decided to switch to non-fiction.

To build up my clips, I worked as a volunteer reporter for a couple of Air Force base newspapers. One exciting assignment was to cover the presentation of a $500 check to the winner of a cheese promotional giveaway at the commissary. I interviewed the "Big Cheese" (i.e. the cheese company representative and, no, I did not call him that!) and winner after the obligatory photo op. I also wrote features about pilots who had been given desk jobs after completing their flight training because the military had more pilots than planes. Then I landed a job writing travel itineraries for a company that coordinated professional exchanges in foreign countries.

It was a dream job—I loved research and part of the job was finding obscure medical organizations in countries like China, Russia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for the professionals from the U.S. to liaison with. Writing the sight-seeing tours—the Great Wall, Buda Castle, the Hermitage, and Charles Bridge—was my favorite part of the job.

I spent the next several years in Mom Land—too tired and too busy to do much except read my favorite mystery authors before I dropped off to sleep shortly after my daughter’s bedtime. I did, however, begin to dream about writing a novel again.

It was the birth of my second child that nudged me back to the computer. I realized that my life was only going to get busier and if I was ever going to try and write a novel I better take what little time I had and crave out some writing time.

So, three days a week, I dropped my daughter off at Pre-K, rushed home and put my son down for a nap, then typed for forty minutes. As you can imagine that first draft took a long time.

But I got it done. Then came the revisions. While I alternated rather erratically between revising whole chapters and then agonizing over a single comma, I put my research skills to work and learned everything I could about publishing and finding an agent.

Fast-forward eleven years, and here I am…that “naptime” book became Moving is Murder, the first in the Ellie Avery mystery series. This week, the sixth book in the Ellie series comes out, Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder.

There’s a saying—“the days go by slowly, but the years go quickly.” Never is that more true than when you are an author. While I’m slogging away a few hundred or thousand words at a time, eighty-thousand words seems like an almost insurmountable goal, but when I look back over the last ten’s all gone by so quickly.

I hope you’ll look for Mimosas this week or give one of the other Ellie books a try. The ebook version of the third book in the series, Getting Away is Deadly, is on sale for 99 cents from March 28 to April 11.

Happy reading!

~ Sara

P.S. The ebook version of my book Getting Away is Deadly is currently a free download at Amazon. It's also on sale for 99 cents at Barnes and Noble!

My Jane Austen Summer Launch Day

By Cindy Jones Dear Friends, This might seem like a regular Tuesday in late March to you, but for me, today is the first day of the next part of my life. The published part. My debut novel is being released today, the culmination of a ten-year journey. Looking back, I realize there were crossroads where things might have taken a different turn:

  • 2001: My husband had the insight to suggest I sign up for a serious writing class. What if he had been too busy changing diapers to notice I was over-writing copy for bake sale fliers?

  • My writing teacher was generous with encouragement. What if I’d had a less-gifted teacher?

  • 2004: My novel fetched 21 rejections. What if I'd kept beating that dead horse?

  • I parked my first novel in a drawer and started a new one. What if I’d known it would take another five years?

  • 2007: The Writer’s League of Texas awarded my manuscript first place in their contest. What if I hadn't entered?

  • My dream agent offered representation. What if I’d sent her the manuscript before it was ready?

  • Same dream agent suggested I re-write the middle of my book. What if I'd insisted on my soggy middle?

  • A published friend gave me serious advice and suggested I attend Squaw Valley Writers Conference. What if I’d decided his advice applied to every writer but me?

  • 2008: Eight editors rejected my first round of submissions. What if a publisher had acquired that version of my novel? (Eww).

  • I cut the middle 150 pages of my novel for the second time and re-wrote. What if my children had complained about The Sock Situation in our laundry room? (They never did).

  • 2009: My readers gave me honest feedback. What if I’d been too discouraged to hear them?

  • I cut the middle 150 pages for the third time and revised. What if my husband had said one cross word about revising? (He never did).

  • My agent sold my novel and I started the countdown to launch day. What if I had given up nine years ago and gone back to over-writing copy for bake sale fliers?

My Jane Austen Summer is celebrating publication today with a four-stop blog tour and giveaways on each blog. Visit and leave a comment on each blog for a chance to win a signed copy of the novel and a package of Lily Berry's Pink Rose Tea, created by Bingley's Teas, Ltd. Each blog will hold a separate drawing, meaning four chances to win. Here's where we're celebrating:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Writer Mama Starting Over Again

Hi Girlfriends,

I think it's quite funny that this cycle's theme is new beginnings, because that's exactly where I am in my life right now. I'm starting over. But it has nothing to do with my literary life, although it will definitely change the way I write. Girlfriends, I'm having a baby. Ten years after giving the birth the first time, I'm doing it again. Yes, there is another child in between the first and what will definitely be the last, but still, he was born almost seven years ago. For all intents and purposes, I feel like this is definitely going to be a new beginning. (Just as a side note: I can't believe all of the improvements and new gadgets there are for babies these days. A trip through the baby aisles at Target yesterday gave me a panic attack.)

While I would never say this baby was an accident, she wasn't exactly planned either. Suffice it to say, the hubby and I did not sit down and figure out exactly how a new baby would fit into our already hectic lives. My husband is in graduate school. I was planning on going on a whirlwind book tour this summer for Substitute Me. Considering I'll be bigger than a beached whale and on the verge of pushing this baby girl out, I can pretty much postpone those plans.

So, what am I going to do? How do I once again figure out how to marry my life as a writer, --which today we know also means my life as a non-stop publicist, promoter and social media whore -- with that of a new mother? After the birth of my first child, it took me an entire year to write one feature-length magazine article. I figured my writing career was over before it began. But then a funny thing happened. Once my son was a year old, sleeping through the night, on a semi-regular schedule, I started to fit the writing in during those nap times, after hours, or even while he played on his baby gym and I pretended to watch. If I'm being honest, I'll tell you that having kids actually made me into the super efficient writer I am today. Once my second son was born, I wrote three more books, a slew of magazine articles and a synopsis for a stage play that never made it out of my living room, but still.

My fingers are crossed that this child will be born knowing how much I love her, yet at the same time knowing how much I need her to be really keen on schedules. (Please!) Of course I know that it is entirely possible that because I actually need a really easy baby, I'll probably get a super fussy-won't sleep unless she's in a moving vehicle- needs to eat precisely every two hours for six months baby, but I kind of have a Plan B for that scenario. She comes with me on that whirlwind book tour. After all, Substitute Me is all about a working woman trying to find a perfect nanny. Won't having Baby X attached to my side make a great talking point for book groups? You think I'm kidding?

At the end of the day, I wouldn't change my life circumstances for the world. Since I was a little girl there have been two dreams that have been constant in my life; to be a writer and to be a mother. So far I've been able to do both and now I get a chance to try again. I couldn't be happier that this my new beginning.

(But just to calm my fears as a writer who's about to become a mother of three, I started googling writer mamas with three or more kids and I discovered, Jodi Piccolt, Jacqueline Mitchard and Sara Gruen all have at least three kids. If you want to make me feel better, let me know of any other three-kid author moms and/or if you are one of those yourself, how do you make it work? I'm so listening.)

Thanks, Girlfriends.

Friday, March 25, 2011

16 Ways To Find a Literary Agent

Best Query Letter

Query agents in batches of no more than ten at a time. That way you'll get some feedback on your submission and will be able to tweak it if necessary without having burned all your bridges. If you get all rejections there is probably something wrong with your query letter. My former agent used to have my query letter up on her site as an example of the best query letter she ever got. Here's a link:

Karin Gillespie
Agent Query

Everywhere I go online regarding authors talking about the agent hunt, this one site is always mentioned: Also, the way I started my own agent search ten years ago was to go to the bookstore and grab every book off the shelf that was packaged/marketed or looked remotely like what I envisioned for my own novel, and also books by authors I loved, and then I looked through the Acknowledgments page to take note of their agent, who is usually the first person thanked in the Acknowledgments page. It's a great way to make a list of agents that fit within your own genre or style.
Melissa Senate


There are many online resources these days for finding agents that specialize in particular fields - Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery etc - but those who are serious about a career in writing should also consider paying the modest fee to join Backspace: There are over 1000 registered members, from just getting started to NYT bestsellers, and a wealth of threads on every writing/publishing subject imaginable. And anything to do with finding an agent, choosing between agents, what to put in a query letter etc is there as well. There's even a place for writers to post queries for critique. You can't beat Backspace and I only wish it had been around in the eight years I was struggling to get published. I'm sure it would have shaved years off my struggle and I certainly would have felt less alone.

Tell them Lauren Baratz-Logsted - - sent you!

A Funny Thing Happened…

I have a funny story on my website on how I found my agent and the process. It's an audio clip so not sure if it would work but it's the last line of my bio page at

Bad Agent Worse than No Agent

I had always read that having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. In hindsight, I’d have to agree. Although, I wouldn’t say my first agent was bad. She was well-intentioned but inexperienced. She’d come from an editing background and was making the transition to literary agent. In other words, her grammar was far superior to her sales skills or ability to advise an author. After almost two years, I moved on. My current agent is at the opposite end of the career spectrum, which can also be intimidating. However, after a hefty revision and solid advice, she sold my book in a few weeks. As for landing her as an agent, once I got a nibble, I didn’t give up. Polite perseverance paid off and she eventually signed me.
Laura Spinella

Research Pays Off

The first thing you need to know—the thing that most writers don't want to hear—is that for a novel, you have to have your whole book written before you can even begin to query agents. So, get your manuscript in great shape—go to writing classes, attend workshops, and get yourself into a writing group in order to get your book in fighting shape.
You'll need to start with a reputable guidebook—I suggest Writer's Market but I’ve also heard that Jeff Herman’s guide is quite good. Read about how to write a query letter and the etiquette of querying agents. All of that stuff is key—it’s just like applying for a job. Just because they are agents doesn’t mean you can be any less professional in your communications. You should also do internet research on each and every agent you plan to query. (Specific agent, that is, not merely the agency, although you should research the agency, too!) Remember that you should never pay an agent to read or review your work. Agents get paid by selling your work and then taking 15% of the sale and royalties.Allison Winn Scotch’s blog, Ask Allison, has amazing info on finding agents (she's also on myspace). Read the links starting from the oldest. Her advice is really spot on.If you prefer your advice with a bit of attitude, check out Miss Snark. She no longer updates the blog, but the archives are invaluable. This website breaks down how to write a query letter.
Finally, it’s really important to find out what agents are looking for, and to make the best impression by being knowledgeable about the field. If you were applying for a job, you'd research the company you were applying to and make sure that your cover letter and resume were a perfect fit.

Brenda Janowitz ,

Throw Yourself to the Shark

I always tell writers who are about to begin querying that it's worth investing several hours reading through the archives at the queryshark blog ( There's simply no better way to get an education on what works and what doesn't in a query letter.

Ellen Meister,

Agents Work For Writers

Remember agents work for authors. Often it feels like the reverse is true, and authors are afraid to make demands on their agents. But the agent works for the author. The agent is paid for by the author. The author should remember they’re not finding an agent; they are hiring an agent.(Easier said than done, I know. I'm on my fourth agent right now, and I've been turned down by many agents over the years. The power balance often seems skewed. But the reality is, my agent works for me, and if I'm not satisfied with the quality of work I'm getting from that agent, and I try without success over a period of time to improve our working relationship, I fire the agent. Nicely--I still have very pleasant relations with my ex-agents. But I think, if I'm not happy with the way my agent is working, I can move on.)One reliable resource for checking out agents is the website "Preditors and Editors" ( (Yes, "Preditors" is spelled that way on the website.) They list agents (by first name, for some reason) and note if the agents have ever had serious complaints or law suits filed against them, and also if they've put together big deals. Another step to take before signing with an agent is to contact some of that agent's other clients. Most agents have websites listing their clients or recently sold books. Go to those clients' websites and email the clients, asking for their honest opinion of the agents. If you're in a writing group or belong to a writing organization, some of the other members might have information, pro or con, about particular agents.

Barbara Keiler/Judith Arnold

How to Find an Agent in Three Easy Steps

1. Write a great query. There are lots of websites and even classes about this "art form" but generally it boils down to 3 paragraphs and one hard and fast rule:
First, a hook as to why you are contacting that particular agent (see #2 below) and something to put your book in context ("in the vein of ..." "a noir detective novel" "Harry and Sally meets Turner and Hootch"). If you have a personal connection (“I met you at the such and such writing conference and you suggested I contact you.” “My friend Your Client suggested I contact you”), lead with that and then go into why you are the right client for her.Second, a few sentences summarizing your book. Think jacket copy. Work, rework , have other writers read it, work it some more, until it is one polished paragraph Third, a few sentences about yourself: A hook between you and your work (i.e, it's a legal thriller and you are a district attorney, or it's about a child with Down Syndrome and your brother has Down Syndrome -- you have one; something sparked your interest in writing your book), your education, especially writing courses you have taken, and anything else that will make you stand out from the zillions of other queries. Don’t be cutesy or corny; make it fresh and real.And the Rule: DON’T have any typos. Use spellcheck, proofread and proofread again. If you are querying multiple agents and cutting and pasting, make sure you change your salutation to address each query to the right agent. (Side rule: never address a query “To whom it may concern” or any other generic salutation.)

2. RESEARCH agents. You always hear people say "it's a chemistry thing" and they are right. You need an agent who is passionate about your work AND has the right contacts within the publishing houses to get it to an editor who also will be passionate about your work.
Start with -- it's a good, searchable website. Find agents who represent your type of work. If you write sci fi and they say they don't like sci fi, cross them off your list. If they say they are not accepting new clients, cross them off your list. Pay attention to what they want to receive (only by email, just the query, query plus 10 pages, etc.) – you’ll need that info for #3 below. Read the acknowledgments in books you like – often the author thanks his agent. Read the announcements in Publishers Weekly. Be aware of where the agents work – if it is a small agency, you are much better off picking the one agent with whom you think you have the best connection, because they talk to each other and you don’t want to look like you are sending queries to the world. When you have a list, Google each agent. Preditors and Editors and Backspace are also great sources for information. Undoubtedly, she has blogged or spoken at a conference, or someone has blogged about her. Read what she has written and get a feel for her attitude and tastes. If she says something that turns you off, cross her off your list. If she says something that clicks with you, use that in your first paragraph.

3. Be organized. Make a table with several columns: The agents you have queried, when and what you sent them (If she wants the first page, don’t send the first chapter), their initial response (No thank you, or please send the whole manuscript, when you sent your manuscript (if requested), and their final response. You might also have a column with why you contacted that particular agent and any connections you have with her (same school, your friend whom she represents). This will save you much time and potential embarrassment. You will get rejections – many successful authors started out with 50, 100, 200 rejections. Take note of any comments in the rejections. If they are all saying the same thing about your query or your manuscript, then go back and see if you agree with them and if so, make changes before you send out more queries.

Amy Bourret, Author of MOTHERS & OTHER LIARS (comes out Aug. 3)

Advice From a Mega Seller

I totally agree w/ Lauren--Backspace is a fabulous fabulous fabulous resource. Any serious writer wanting to be published owes it to pay the minimal stipend to belong.

Thought I'd relay the advice from Kathryn Stockett, who spoke the other night at the opening of the Virginia Book Festival (she was beyond delightful, by the way, so if you have a chance to go see her, do!). Someone asked a similar question and she sifted through her fat files on her lap and pulled out a stack of rejection letters for The Help, which was rejected by over 60 agents.
Rather than giving up, she took the advice from the rejections and helped it to make her book stronger each time. Of course some of the rejections were nonsense, and you have to use your gut to know whether recommendations are meant to change your novel too much, but think about that--her book has sold 3 million books in two years time, and SIXTY agents scoffed at it.

Jenny Gardiner,

Get Your Foot in the Door

Mystery author Jerrilyn Farmer once said to me, "Getting an agent is like a marriage. You don't really know if it's going to work out until you're in it." That was apropos in my case, as the agent who got me my first deal with HarperCollins--and who reps some amazing authors--wasn't a good fit for my career or personality. I've had another agency for the past six years, and I love them to pieces! But I likely would not have lucked into them without first having my foot in the door. I've found the best information on agents comes from other authors. If you don't have published author friends to ask directly about their agents, you can Google an agent's name and find out if he/she has been gushed about on author blogs or if he/she has been interviewed, giving more insight into what they're looking for. I also like Kristen Nelson's PubRants ( as there's endless scoop in her archives. And I always recommend that folks check the listing of agents and agencies on the AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives) at They have a lot of information on what agents want, whether they take email queries, etc.


Check the Acknowledgements

I poured over the Guide to Literary Agents, attended writer's conferences where I could meet with agents to pitch my work, and entered writing contests. I won a contest and that gave me a hook for the first paragraph of my query letter. The Acknowledgment section of books similar in style and tone to my work in progress were a gold mine of agent names--I kept a running list of possible agent names. It took a little while to track some of them down, but it paid off for me.
Sara Rosett

From Bad to Good

In my case, I did at one time have what you could only call a bad agent. It's been 7 years since we parted ways and the effects of the bad agenting still come back to haunt me. The effects include things like heinous contract terms (she essentially lied to me about what they meant when I questioned them.) and, perhaps most important, she did not give me career advice when I asked for it. It was my expectation that she would.So, when I was searching for a new agent (eventually with a contract in hand) I had some VERY specific requirements; things I knew I wanted in an agent. I also knew I needed more than just whatever the agent said in promotional materials (websites, listings etc). I went to the RWA national conference and attended every single panel with agents or about agenting and took notes about who said what and my impressions of these agents. I hung out in the bars and lounges and asked other writers who they were with and whether they were happy and I also asked people who they thought was the best agent out there. I also crossed at least one agent off my list due to behavior I observed in the bar.I ended up with a list of agents and a LOT great knowledge about agent-author relationships -- some of which I knew were not for me. I started querying (documenting who I queried etc) and when I had offers, I contacted clients and chatted with them about their experiences and I talked with the agents about what I was looking for and how that fit with how they liked to agent. The agent I ended up signing with also sent me a copy of her agency agreement so I could take a look at that, and I would recommend that anyone considering signing with an agent ask to see the agency contract (though not every agent has one).Make sure you're clear about your expectations and needs (career development? editorial input? Hand-holding? etc) and listen to the responses.Carolyn Jewel

It’s a Journey

I think writing is a never-ending process of becoming more comfortable with yourself. Not only with the words we put on the page and the stories we're driven to tell, but with the people we have in our lives. As we grow as writers, we have new experiences and, sometimes, we discover we need different people to help guide our careers than we may have originally anticipated.

So, I think the first thing to do is to find an agent who really loves and understands your writing as it is right now. Someone you communicate well with and who will help you polish your work and get it before the right editorial eyes. You want an agent who will be an advocate for you today and, hopefully, for several years down the road. But don't put too much pressure on yourself -- or on your agent -- to be everything to you for now and all time. It's wonderful when that kind of client/agent relationship happens, but some of the most successful, long-term career writers I know have had several agents over the decades -- different people at different stages of their careers. Sometimes they became good friends with their agents. Sometimes they were simply excellent business partners. I think the more you come to know your strengths as a writer, the more you'll know what type of agent you'll need to complement those skills. Best of luck!
Marilyn Brant

Keep On Keeping On

Just don't give up! I quit my first agent search 30 years ago on my first novel after 5 great rejection letters, which I took as the END OF MY LIFE. For my second book, four years later, a William Morris agent loved the first 50 pages and then suggested revisions for the full novel. Which I wrote and she then turned down. I didn't even try another agent...Again, the END OF MY LIFE. Then I had kids (which we know is when the writing life ACTUALLY ENDS). I eventually wrote another book, which I submitted to one and only one agent. She said she loved my work, that it was charming and engaging but that she couldn't sell a book of letters. The only thing harder, she added, were short story collections. (She obviously didn't see forward to the year that Olive Kitteridge and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society topped the best seller list.) She encouraged me to write a novel and let her see it. I did. She left me a voice mail telling me how beautifully done Diana Lively is Falling Down was but that she didn't LOVE it enough to be passionate about it. So, I did the agent search for a while, ignoring a woman three people had suggested because she was British and my novel had English characters and I didn't feel they'd pass the sniff test for dialog. Finally, in desperation, I had my husband (who knew her) ask if she'd read my novel. She said of course. I sent it. Didn't hear from her for a month. Decided it was worthless. Decided that all my friends (to whom I'd sent the book but hadn't heard from) hated it. I listed them in order. Rhian hates the book. Scotti hates the book. Terry hates the book. ... et cetera. Then, with tears dripping down my face I wrote, "But I LOVE this book." I decided I would self-publish. The next day I got an email from my agent saying she'd enjoyed reading the novel and could we talk the next day. When I answered the phone she told me she was surprised by my accent. She'd assumed I was British too. We fell in love, got hitched and have lived happily ever after.

Sheila Curran,

An Agent Who Found an Agent

The running joke in my family was that I had to become an agent to get an agent. I actually was a motion picture literary agent at ICM when I sent the first four chapters of my manuscript to my colleague in New York. Without my name on the chapters. I truly believe that the first thing you have to do to get an agent is write a kick ass book. And then rewrite the kick ass book. And then rewrite the kick ass book. And then again rewrite the kick ass book. And finally when you are really tired of the book and your family and friends and critique partners are tired of your book....rewrite the kick ass book once more. Then (and only then) query your agent. I am a big believer in personal contact. Having sat on both sides of the table as a writer pitching and an agent listening I think personal contact is key. Once you have the truly kick ass book go to a writer's conference but do your research before you go on what agents you want to stalk make contact with. Then, make contact. Whether it is at a pitch session, an elevator, a panel session (but preferably not while they are trapped in a bathroom stall) pitch them. Get a yes. And for goodness sake once you get the 'yes, please send it to me.' from your dream agent don't yammer on and talk them out of their yes.

Maggie Marr

Keeping It Real

I have had three agents. One for eleven years, one for eleven months and this latest for over a year. There are no similarities between how they work, how I got them and how well they produced. The only similarity was that I started out with great expectations that were often unmet. Not blaming them-the agent/author relationship is like a marriage and you will not always agree on strategy, ideas, execution, etc. Also like a marriage, you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve got it (and the agent could say the same thing). You don’t know if they’ll return your phone calls and emails, be responsive when you have questions/concerns, really be an advocate for you or just add you to their roster like a baseball manager who needs more left handed pitching.

Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to land a reputable and respected agent, be realistic. This is no guarantee that they can or will deliver you to the promised land of best seller lists and Hollywood deals. All it means is that the possibilities for getting published are greater because you have solid representation and (hopefully) someone who believes in your work.

The final outcome depends on luck, timing, compatibility, worth ethic (yours and theirs) and ultimately the best, damn book you can write (and re-write). In other words, once you land an agent, that’s when the hard work begins.

Saralee Rosenberg,

Girlfriend News

New post at The Byline of Being Read. Contest for a signed copy of Beautiful Disaster runs through the end of March.

Incite me, baby!

This blog post on beginnings is by Carleen Brice, author of two novels, Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters. You can read the beginnings of both books on my website.

Randy Susan Myers, author of The Murderer's Daughters, posts the first pages of novels on her site and invited me to participate. I posted what I thought was the beginning of my current novel, Calling Every Good Wish Home. No sooner had I posted it, than bam, I had an idea for a better opening. Which I'm not going to post here because it may change again. (I learned my lesson!) This scene is still in the book, so please do read it; it's just not the first thing we see anymore.

Most writers and editors talk about the importance of the first few lines and pages being intriguing enough to draw the reader in. Of course, this is the primary work of the beginning. But I also find a good beginning does something else: it sets up the ending. To me, there's an added enjoyment of an ending when it's foreshadowed (subtly) by the beginning.

Indeed, that's what Robert McKee says in his book Story, which is one of my writing bibles. He calls the opening the "inciting incident." This isn't necessarily the first page of the story, but is "the first major event of the telling; the primary cause for all that follows." More from Mckee:

"...this is the event that incites and captures the audience's [I'll add readers] curiosity...witnessing [reading about] the inciting incdent projects an image of the obligatory scene into the audience's imagination. The obligatory scene (AKA crisis) is an event the audience knows it must see before the story can end."

Like a few others here, my writing process involves writing the beginning, usually the first 100 or so pages, then writing the end and then filling in the middle. The opening I'm currently working with really informed the ending, which then led me to great stuff for the middle.

I think. I hope. We'll see! If the published version of this novel has a different opening than the one I'm working with now I'll let you know!

Happy writing and reading, and good luck with your own beginnings, middles and endings!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where to begin? by Brenda Janowitz

I love beginnings.  There’s just something wonderful about starting a new novel.  New characters, new ideas, a totally new chance to make something special.

I always find starting a new novel so easy.  There’s that level of excitement you have—you’re armed with your idea and you’re rearing to go.  I can sit down at the computer and churn out a first chapter in no time flat.

But that’s when things get a bit more difficult.  Once that opener is done, once you’re done with that initial burst of adrenaline, you find yourself alone again with the blank page.  You’ve begun something, you’ve introduced your characters, your setting, and now you’ve made the reader a promise.  And you’ve got to deliver on that promise.

Your characters need to be fully fleshed out, the situations you put them into reasonable, or at least feasible.  You’ve got to keep your voice consistent throughout the novel, and you’ve got to make sure your tone remains steady.  There’s nothing readers hate more than starting out a novel that they think is one thing, only to end up with another thing entirely.

Your novel needs to have a good beginning—most people won’t read more than your first chapter unless they are immediately engaged (or first line, if you’re like me), but your novel also needs to live up to the promise that you make the reader in that first chapter.

Lots of people can start a novel or have an idea for a novel—just ask anyone I’ve ever met at a cocktail party—but most people won’t actually finish writing a novel.

Beginnings are really important, but finishing is the hard part. 

What’s your favorite part of a novel?  Is it the beginning?  And for you writers out there, what part is your favorite part to write—the beginning, middle or end?

I’m the author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist.  My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly.  You can find me at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beginnings: Opening Lines

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

(Please note: That picture has absolutely *nothing* to do with what I'm about to write, but why *not* add a handsome man's picture to my post if I've got one lying around the old computer? If you find him handsome enough, you won't care if what follows fails to entertain or makes no sense!)

"Have you become a fuckwit, Jane?"

Pretty acerbic, I know, but that's the line that launched my career as a novelist, the first line of my debut novel, The Thin Pink Line. And it does suit the story that follows. How else to begin a contemporary novel about a sociopathic Londoner who decides to fake an entire pregnancy?

When people ask me about my - I can't believe I'm going to use this pretentious word that I hate, but OK, here goes - process, I say that I typically begin a new book with three things: 1) an idea (e.g. woman fakes entire pregnancy); 2) a character (e.g. sociopathic Londoner Jane Taylor, who stitches together her own crazy story; 3) an opening line (e.g. "Have you become a fuckwit, Jane?") I often also know the final line as well, even though I rarely know how I'm going to get from first to last, but there's no point in giving away last lines just in case you were all going to immediately rush out and buy all my books - I don't want to spoil the endings for you!

But first lines...ah, first lines...I can talk about them all day. First lines set the tone for everything that follows.

Take the opening from Vertigo, a book which is about as far from The Thin Pink Line as it's possible for a book to be. Actually, it's the first two lines, which encompass the entire prologue, Vertigo being a dark novel set in Victorian England involving murder. "For nearly seventeen years, I was a good, some might say exemplary, wife. As I put pen to paper for the first time to record my tale, it is important you know this about me from the start." You know what this line says to me? It says, "Uh-oh. Things are not going to go well for this woman, are they?"

Writing for young adults, as I also do, presents its own set of challenges. The YA market is so exciting to write for these days, the story possibilities endless because the audience is so intensely imaginative, but due to the competing-for-attention items such as advanced technology, that same audience has pretty much the shortest attention span in recorded history. So you have to grab that attention fast. Here's Lucius, opening his part of the two-voice he-said/she-said novel Crazy Beautiful: "My arm rises toward my face and the pincer touch of cold steel rubs against my jaw. I chose hooks because they were cheaper. I chose hooks because I wouldn't outgrow them so quickly. I chose hooks so that everyone would know I was different, so I would scare even myself."

And then there's the challenge of writing for even younger kids, like the nine-book The Sisters 8 series for kids approximately six to ten years old. Chapter One of Book 1 opens: "It was New Year's Eve 2007, approximately ten o'clock, and we were just getting ready to celebrate Christmas." There are a few important things in that first sentence: 1) why are they celebrating Christmas on New Year's Eve?; 2) the line sounds so innocent and yet before the 12-page chapter is through, the octuplet stars of the series will realize their parents have disappeared and it's up to them to solve the mystery of those twin disappearances while keeping the rest of the world from realizing they're home alone; 3) the most important thing of all, we - "we were just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. The entire series, with the exception of the prologues, is written in the rare first person plural. It sets the quirky tone for all the quirkiness to follow.

Anyway, that's just a sampling from the 19 openings I've had published in my career thus far. This coming November, I'll have a new YA novel out, Little Women and Me, the prologue of which begins: " 'There's no such thing as a perfect book,' Mr. Ochocinco says." Not long after that, my teen heroine gets sucked out of her contemporary world and into the world of the classic novel Little Women, where she must choose to right one of that novel's chief wrongs: the death of Beth or the fact that Laurie winds up with Amy instead of Jo. I hope it will turn out that my first line serves the novel well.

So how about you? What are some of your favorite opening lines from your own writing? Come on - don't be shy!

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Beginnings

My mother's not around to ask, but I suspect that my entry into this world wasn't an easy one. I'm the kind of person who's more comfortable in the middle of something: I like to know where I'm going and how it's going to turn out. Beginnings are tough.

In one big way, I was lucky at the start: I was born only eleven months after my sister Sue. So she forded the way in front of me during most of my growing up. We shared a room until high school, wore a lot of the same clothes, attended tap and ballet classes together, swapped books, teased our younger siblings, talked about boys. (That's me on the ground, Sue standing up.)

Our family moved quite a few times when I was a kid--and all those beginnings were hard. I can still remember starting sixth grade in a new town in Michigan. My mother took me to buy shoes and we picked out black and white (or were they brown?) saddle shoes. I realized quickly that these weren't the style in my new town when the kids nicknamed me "the cow." But I always had my friend, my sister, at home.

Sue became a writer well before I did, but she didn't seem to mind sharing the profession with me when I came to it late. In fact, she's one of my biggest fans. Instead of boys and clothes, we talk about word counts, and writing with heart, and promotion. She supported my first rather pathetic attempts at writing a novel and has encouraged me every step along the way since then. (Picture below is Sue (R) and me with the cat man of Key West, who's part of the scenery in the first Key West food critic mystery, A TASTE FOR MURDER.)

Publishing, of course, is changing like crazy right now--and we writers are invited to adjust to the latest trends, or move on. This year, I've acquired a new protagonist, Hayley Snow, a new mystery series, a new publisher, a new editor, and even a new name. A lot of beginnings for a woman who's most comfortable in the middle.

So here it is, the Equinox, the first day of spring, and I'm ready to assume my new name on this blog: Lucy Burdette. Since everything's so new, and beginnings aren't easy, I will be grateful if you'll come visit! Meanwhile, the phone lines between my home and Sue's will be humming…

With gratitude, Lucy (formerly known as Roberta Isleib:)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

by Sheila Curran, author of EVERYONE SHE LOVED, wishing that photo to the left was her own!

It is such a pleasure to give you a sneak preview of Bridget Asher's newest novel! I adore the cover. I cannot wait to get my hands on the book. Julianna has offered me a free copy but I believe friends should order other friends' books. I got a super price on Amazon. Of course I would pay full price if I could make myself get into the car to go to an independent bookstore, but first, we don't have one in our small town, and second, the chaos of the world right now makes home shopping seem so much more attractive. So why am I so eager to get my mitts on this book? No, it's not about me. It's just that I desperately NEED a read that will allow me to escape from my own research on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the possibility of nuclear meltdown in Japan, a new conflict in Libya, and the fact that my fifteen year old is on Spring Break with 150 of her closest friends. Need I say more?

Julianna (ahem, Bridget) is such a smart, funny, entertaining writer that I read her last book in the midst of my gruesome treatments for cancer and laughed out loud. I have read all her books. I am always yelling at her to write another. (Meanwhile, I crawl along at my tortoise pace, cracking the whip on her to write yet another book, just for ME.)

Here is our interview:

Where, my dear, did you get the idea to write this book?

The idea was twofold.

One. I love France. Why -- oh why -- was I setting my novels is places I didn't love -- Bayonne, New Jersey, a fictionalized Morgantown, West Virginia, Baltimore (which I do kind of love for its gritty industrial edginess) again and again? I have four kids and live with the suffocation (and joy, of course, there's lots of joy -- I'm not an ingrate) that comes with that life. Dave and I decided that we should save up and go to France for the summer. At first we thought we'd rent an apartment in Paris -- not in our budget -- then in a little smaller city in the South of France -- not in our budget -- then in a tiny ancient row house in a tiny village in the South of France -- $60 a day for a month. We brought five kids -- our own and a niece, ranging in age from 13 to a one year old. In total, we were in France for six weeks. We had our share of adventures -- which exist in the book -- one kid ran into a plexiglass wall protecting the bones of Mary Magdalene; we tended an injured swallow; we got robbed ... The entire experience, though, felt like we were coming back to our senses -- the tiny white snails on the roadside flowers, the world of Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire, the lilac fields and vineyards -- our full undiluted senses.

Two. "Grief is a love story told backwards." That's the first line, and that is what I wanted to do in writing the novel -- tell a love story from the place of grief and moving beyond it. In writing fiction, I often get to confront my greatest fears. My husband and I have been together for eighteen years. We met and were engaged in a couple weeks, married in less than a year. When he's late, I panic. I immediately envision fiery wrecks. In this way, THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED begins as a love letter. Heidi is a widow who's supposed to be able to move on now, but can't. Over the course of the novel -- and because of the house in Provence that's been in her family for generations -- she finds joy again.

I got to eat much of my research -- so much so that we put recipes in the back of the novel, along with an essay on the foodie aspects of the novel. It felt cruel not to include recipes after such lush descriptions of meals. (I specifically suggest the Provencal chicken in cream sauce -- a recipe that, like the house in Provence, has been around for generations.) I wanted to write a character who was coming back to senses, and now one of my favorite sense to research is -- and forever will be -- taste.
(Bon appetit!)

I love the cover of this novel. How did it come about?

I love the cover, too. In fact, THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED has many foreign versions, and, I have to say that across the board, this novel has inspired some exquisite covers. The first time I saw this cover, it didn't yet have the butterfly. I felt like I wanted one little touch of whimsy, something to show that this novel was going to bring in some small magical element. The butterfly is important in the multi-generational stories about the house that Heidi has to bring back after a fire. I love family stories passed down, and I wanted to show this house's magical presence. The butterfly hints at that element of the novel.

So that my friends, is my interview with the prolific, fabulous, famous and ever so generous Julianna Baggott aka Bridget Asher.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Interview with Patricia Sprinkle, author of Friday's Daughter

What is the backstory behind Friday's Daughter?

Deborah "Teensie" MacAllester is the youngest of three sisters. The oldest, Susan, is a poet and a college professor. The second, Regan, is beautiful and married to a very wealthy and handsome man. Teensie is neither brilliant nor beautiful,but she likes to help people, so she became a nurse. Fifteen years ago, she put her own career on hold to return home to care for her elderly aunt and then her mother, but Teensie, a nurse, dreamed of opening a small, private home where impoverished elderly people could live out their lives in gracious surroundings. Her father--a former college president and Georgia state senator--promised if she'd remain with him until he died, he would leave her her his large marble home and enough money to make her dreams come true. The book opens on the day of his funeral, followed by the day his will is read, on which Teensie discovers how little he and her sisters valued all she has done for the family.

You recently switched from writing mysteries series to women's fiction. Why did you make the change and was it a difficult transition considering you were so familiar with your series characters?

I made the change because for twenty years or more I had been deferring writing novels that were haunting me, in order to keep writing the mysteries. I decided it was time to write the novels before I got too old. I also changed because of the death of the magistrate in Middle Georgia who had served as the inspiration for my longest series, the Thoroughly Southern mysteries. It was no longer fun to write the books without her encouragement and enjoyment of the stories. Of course, twenty years before I had switched from writing primarily about world hunger to writing mysteries, so it wasn't as if I had been a mystery writer all my life. So many books I want to write, so little time!

I know you've been writing books for many years, what's are some of the biggest difference you've seen in publishing business during that time?

I've watched the gap in advances stretch so that some people eventually got incredibly (and often unwarranted) advances while those of us in the midlist got small increments each year, and I watched that gap shrink a little as the economy tightened a lot of belts. I watched the mystery world spread itself too thin with mysteries for every conceivable interest group, and shrink as publishers discovered that mystery buyers are only going to buy a certain number of books in a given year. I've watched breaking in for new authors go from hard to very difficult to almost impossible. I've watched a number of authors decide to publish their own books--some of them did pretty well and some discovered how difficult it was to sell books once they had them stacked in their garage. Now we are seeing travelers who prefer to carry a thousand books in a Kindle or a Nook to carrying a suitcse full of paperbacks on a long trip. But what has never changed is the dedication of writers to the stories they have been given. It astonishes me how a story can grip us until we have to write it, whether anybody buys it or not. Truly, this is not a profession, it is an obsession!

What books are currently on your nightstand?

I don't have a nightstand, we have a bed with an angled headboard for easy reading in bed and a long flat top where we can stack LOTS of books, but if you want to know what I'm reading, I just finished The Time Traveler's Wife, which was intriguing, and now am slowly savoring the new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is excellent. Of course, I read a mystery in the middle of those. This past week it was Erica Spindler's Blood Vines, a rapidly moving tale set in Sonoma Valley, California.

How has your writing changed over the years?

I hope I am getting better at telling a story and developing characters. A primary goal for me all these years is "To write well." I am constantly seeking ways to improve. And nowadays I find that the puzzles interest me less, and I no longer want to kill people for fun and profit. Rather, I want to explore and explain what makes women do some of the things we do and what changes us and those around us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Beginning of Your Novel: Six Must-Have Elements

The beginning of your novel is your calling card, the way to make a good first impression whether on an agent or a reader. With the proliferation of e-readers, it’s common for people to “test-drive” a book, now that the first 35 or so pages of many novels are available for free. With a great beginning you’re likely to make that sale or get that full request from an agent. So be sure to grab your reader from page one.

Here are six elements that you’ll need to make the beginning of your novel shine:

1. Profluence: A fancy word coined by John Gardner in “The Art of Fiction,” which means to move forward. A reader needs to feel a forward momentum, an emotional urgency and the feeling of “getting somewhere” in order to compel her to keep reading.

2. Chapter One—Not a Prologue: This might be controversial advice, but in my private manuscript consulting business 95 percent of the prologues I see are either irrelevant, can be included in the first chapter or even turned into the first chapter. Agents often see prologues as a red flag and a cheap shortcut. Avoid them if at all possible.

3. A Riveting Scene: So often writers feel they need to set the scene and give the reader lots of background information. They might even start with the protagonist going about his day, checking email, drinking coffee, cleaning the litter box—in other words starting with something boring and mundane. Don’t hesitate to start with a riveting, relevant scene that has little backstory. You can weave necessary details in later.

4. A Strong Voice: This sometimes can take the place of a riveting scene at the start of a book that offers up a more “ordinary” premise. Voice refers to the words you choose (diction), how you arrange and group the words (syntax), the order in how you present events (structure) and the attitude toward the characters, subject and events of the book (tone). It’s the soul of your story and the unique way that only you can tell it.

5. A Flawed Protagonist: Happy heroes and heroines with no problems, perfect lives and no obstacles to overcome quickly become boring. As Anne Lamott says in bird by bird: “You are going to love some of your characters because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story.”

6. A Beginning that’s not at the Beginning: Often the best place to start a novel is not at the point where the actual story begins. If your first chapter lacks punch, experiment with starting the book in a different place. Often you won’t know the best place to begin your novel until you’ve completed the whole thing.

Wendy Tokunaga is the author of two novels, Midori by Moonlight (2007) and Love in Translation (2009), both published by St. Martin’s Press, and the forthcoming non-fiction e-book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband. She is also the author of the award-winning self-published novel, No Kidding (2000). She has published two non-fiction children’s books with KidHaven Press and her short stories have appeared in various literary journals. She holds a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University and an MFA in Writing from University of San Francisco (2008). She teaches novel writing at Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and has her own private manuscript consulting business.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ode Upon a Grecian Typewriter

I miss typewriters. I miss the loud, clackety clack. The zzzzzhhhing of the return carriage. Punching the keys to make an impression on the paper. I miss the smell of paper and ink ribbons.

I miss typewriters. But only for a moment.

I couldn't live without computers. I don't miss measuring the paper before putting it in so I don't type to the absolute bottom of the page. I don't miss having to use a messy, blue sheet of carbon paper between two pieces of paper to make a copy. I don't miss correcting mistakes by using correcting tape and then realigning the typewriter and hoping my letters line up.

So why all the nostalgia? I don't know. I do collect typewriters. I wrote on them in college and grad school. I wrote my first (terrible, btw) novel on a typewriter - that one had a daisy wheel. Oh, I'm far more efficient and prolific now that I can cut, paste and delete with reckless (sometimes regretworthy) abandon.

But typing used to be an experience. I don't know - the sound of the keys helped me think. Printing my thoughts directly onto a sheet of paper seemed more permanent - more immediate somehow.

Today, you could write fifty pages on a laptop and until you printed them off, it isn't real. You only had to type one page on a typewriter, and you held that one page (flaws and all) in your hand. It existed.

My kids think I'm completely insane. I have a small, manual typewriter like the kind reporters took with them into the field. To them it's as big as a piano. When I tell them about measuring to make room for footnotes or spending twenty cents a page to make a copy at Kinko's (only in dire circumstances), they laugh hysterically.

The big gift when I graduated high school was a Brother electric typewriter. It weighed 30 lbs. I had to suffer through a semester of typing class to get it. Remember the 80lb. IBM Selectrics and the foldover Gregg textbooks? My grandfather was a travelling typewriter repairman for IBM. He retired in the early '70's. I still find IBM Selectrics with his name written in them as having last been serviced by George Johnson.

I miss typewriters. But would I ever go back to writing on them?

Not a chance.

Leslie Langtry

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Almost Like Falling in Love

We authors often think our books are our beloved offspring. We give birth to them, we nurture and guide them, and when we’ve done all we can to make them strong and smart, off they go into the world, carrying with them our hopes and dreams.

But while I consider my finished books my children, starting a new book is more like making a baby—less maternal than amorous. Venturing into a new writing project is like beginning a new love affair.

When my radar picks up a new story idea, I approach cautiously, with both optimism and trepidation. From a distance it looks cute, but up close will it seem quite so attractive? Or will I be disappointed as its flaws become evident? What will its personality be like? Will it be easy to get along with, or will it fight with me and skewer my ego? Will we stay together for the long haul, or will I want to kick it to the curb by chapter three?

I start out slowly, feeling it out, sizing it up. Should I open the story in this character’s point of view or in that one’s? On the beach or in the kitchen? With a cold body or with a hot kiss? Should I confront this new story audaciously (“Let’s get naked, dude!”), edge into things carefully (“Excuse me, do you have the time?”) or opt for something in between?

I try different approaches and test its response. Does it start opening up, or does it shut down?

Getting to know a new story takes time. It reveals some parts of itself and conceals others. I need to discover its personality—is it funny? dramatic? whiz-kid smart? slacker-mellow? I’ve got to discover its rhythm—ambling? jogging? tearing down the road on a Harley, spewing plumes of dust in his wake?

I want the relationship to work. I put a lot of effort into it. In fact, too often I find myself putting most of the effort into it, while the story just lazes in bed, offering an occasional, “If you want,” or “Whatever.”

Gradually, I get comfortable around the story. No more advances and retreats. No more self-doubt and questioning (kitchen or beach? corpse or kiss?) Things seem to be progressing, so I let down my guard and start to trust it—and myself.

In time I reach the end of the third chapter, or the twenty-thousand-word point, or the first crisis in my plot. In other words, the end of the beginning. In other words, Commitment Time. Time to assess things and see whether this affair is really worth pursuing. Do I conclude that the more I get to know the story, the more I like it? Or is it turning out to be a dud? Maybe it’s too stubborn, or too withdrawn, unable to share itself with me. Maybe it’s boring.

It’s so gorgeous, I might choose to give the relationship a little more effort and see if I can get things moving in the right direction. On the other hand, gorgeous or not, maybe I should just cut my losses and show it the door. Some potential books, no matter how hunky, simply aren’t worth it.

All my new projects are appealing when they first present themselves. They look so dazzlingly handsome from a distance, when they’re more imagination than reality. They beckon, they arouse my fantasies, they suck me in and make me want to give my soul to them in a gift-wrapped box. But then I start getting to know them...and some of them turn out to be major losers, regardless of their bedroom eyes and six-pack physiques and alluringly husky voices.

Despite knowing that a new project may not turn out to be the love of my life, or even a satisfying fling, I hope with each new project that this time I won’t wind up nursing a broken heart. I begin every new manuscript believing this is The One, this project will fulfill my every desire and the love affair will last until I type “The End.”

That’s the beauty of starting a new book: it’s something to believe in. It teems with promise. You always hope, as that sexy sweetheart of a story looms into view, that it will turn out to be the real thing.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Hi all! We're talking about beginnings. I'm all for them. And I like endings almost as much. My writing process is that I always write the beginning of my book and then the end, then I go write everything that happens in between. As I work on a book, everything in the middle changes many, many times, but the beginning and the end usually stays (almost magically) the same.

Speaking of beginnings, my new book, A PUG'S TALE (pictured to the left; I really love the cover) comes out June 7. Soon! In lieu of posting the beginning in its entirety, as that would make for a crazy long blog post, how about the first paragraph? This is the first time I'm posting it anywhere...I hope you like it:

It was a decision we would later look back on with regret. There were pugs running loose in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Imagine a vast army of pugs attempting to summit the grand central staircase of the Met. Only, the pugs were not on the stairs. They were contained –if the word “contained” can even be used in the same sentence as “pugs”—in the Temple of Dendur Hall, a great expanse of rose-hued marble running the length of one side of the museum. True, this fact was only a small solace. But I’ve long been a believer in taking solace where you can get it.

Q and A with Lori May, Author of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook

Writing instructor and author Lori May talks about juggling several genres, what kind of temperament a writer needs to have and much more.

You're a triple threat, a poet, nonfiction and novelist. Is there one discipline you prefer over the other and why?

I love each of these genres for a variety of reasons, so I really don't have a preference. They each serve a purpose, both for the audience and for meeting my creative needs. While I tend to write more nonfiction and poetry, it doesn't mean I care less for fiction; for novels, though, I really do need a different mindset to get into the heart of a story and I find that takes some mental preparation to devote such necessary time and attention. On a daily basis, I write poetry and nonfiction, but once a fictional story creeps its way into my mind, that can distract me-in a good way-for months at a time.

You are a writer instructor as well. What kind of temperament does a successful writer need?

Flexibility helps, for sure. As writers, we need to be flexible not only with regards to recognizing what the market-and our readers-is responding to, but also how we personally react to what we're writing. I may outline a story to play out one way and whilst writing it, I may discover my characters have something entirely different in mind. I rarely try to fight my characters or what the story is telling me. So, adaptability and a willingness to listen-to our characters, the story, and the audience-combined with the confidence to try things outside of the comfort zone certainly help all of us writers. It's important to be open to learning new things along the way and changing things up, being flexible, is a great attribute. Sometimes, of course, that's easier said than done!

You have a literary and genre background. Why do you think there's some friction between these types of writers?

Ah, the age-old question that never really seems to have an answer anyone likes. I think it can be frustrating for some, in that there does seem to be a divide between the two. Yet, for every time a writer is told something is too literary for the commercial market, there's an example of it working for someone else-like Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours, which went on to be an award-winning film that pleased a commercial and literary audience. Then, for every time a literary novelist is told something may be too commercial, there are examples of that working as well. I think the two can happily co-exist yet the divide will seemingly always be there. And that's okay, because sometimes we want a more trendy read that will have us on the edge of our seats and other times we need something deep and thought provoking that leaves us with many questions. There doesn't have to be so much tension and friction about this; we should just write what makes us happy and fulfilled. One time that may be more commercial, another time it may be more literary. So long as we're artistically fulfilled, labels shouldn't bother us in the process of writing.

Your book The Low-Residency MFA Handbook just came out. What are a couple of advantages of a low-residency program over a traditional MFA program?

By far, the biggest advantage of a low-residency MFA is the ability to adopt the writing life immediately. Setting our own deadlines, writing daily, and making writing a part of our regular life is all encouraged through the self-discipline required to complete a low-res program. Without the daily classes to attend and with the ability to complete a program from your home base-without moving the family, selling the house, or quitting the day job-low-res students need to find a way to make life work, inclusive of writing desires and obligations. The low-res model helps train you for a lifetime of writing, independent of the class work, so that you're better able to keep the momentum going after graduation. Plus, with a built-in support system of peers and writing mentors that connect with students via email, phone, and online workshops, there is greater flexibility in having a go-to person at just about any hour of the day. Often these relationships last longer than the degree, so the low-res model is a great way to build-and grow-a community as well.

Since you wear so many writing hats, how do you divide your time? Do you work on more than one project at a time?

I certainly do work on more than one project at a time. Right now, I'm taking a few moments for this interview, which is really a break for me in between finishing up a magazine article deadline and returning to edit some poems I was working on this morning. Later today, I'll also continue to make some notes on a new nonfiction project I'm working on so, yes, I usually multi-task! I do try to find a balance, though, between getting things checked off the to-do list and spending lengthier amounts of time on a project when I'm deep into it. There are days when I will only work on one project if that's what needs my attention at the time. Generally, though, I start the day with something quick but creative-like working on a poem-and then I'll get a few business items out of the way, before settling into a larger project. Then I reward myself for a day of hard work by cooking something enjoyable or watching a movie with my husband. I work hard throughout the day, but I think we all can benefit from taking down time and having fun, too.

You do a lot traveling around, giving writing seminars and such. Do you have a memorable or funny experience to share in that regard?

Like most people, I've been victim to layovers and other flight delays, but I always try to make the most of whatever situation I'm thrown into. Recently, on my way back from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference and bookfair, this year hosted in Washington DC, I was delayed with a layover in Philly. Rather than hop the next available flight, my husband and I decided to make a mini-vacation out of it and stayed the weekend in Philly so we could tour downtown and get a cheesesteak at our local favorite, Sonny's Famous Steaks. Sure, we could have made it home earlier, but adding in a bit of fun on the way home from a hardworking conference made for a nice detour. If our flight hadn't been delayed on account of the weather, I would have been back home at my desk and at work. Instead, we had a great time shopping, visiting the historic sites, and eating some signature Philly food. I'll take travel mishaps any day!

Lori A. May is the author of four books, including The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum Books). Her work has also appeared in publications such as Rattle, Two Review, Phoebe, and anthologies such as Van Gogh's Ear. More information is available online at

Lori A. May
Available Now! - The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students available at Amazon or Continuum Books
Also available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon - stains: early poems by Lori A. May