Tag: Stephen King

Various Iterations of No

I’ve been sending around my YA novel to agents in the hopes of representation. While no one has yet expressed interest, I have received a handful of rejections. They all express the same sentiments: they are regretful, the book world is so subjective, I deserve an agent who is as passionate about my work as I am, I should continue.

I am delighted to know about this world of polite “no’s.” I’m not unperceptive and I know these are more or less form letters, but I enjoy their courteous encouragement. And for people as busy as agents—in this world of instant electronic submissions—just receiving a reply can be interpreted as a form of success. But having run the gamut of iterations of “no” for a while, I now want to know why. To that end I have an idea: How about a form rejection letter that would have suggestions or comments built in that the agent would underscore or make bold or put an X next to. It could look something like this.

Dear Deb,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review your work. However, I am not going to offer you representation based on this manuscript because:

X Your writing needs to be tightened up

   Your characters are flat/tropey

    Your plot lacks sufficient development

X This subject is not selling right now

Best regards, Agent

Does that seem too harsh? I think it would be helpful and I don’t think it would take up any more of the agent’s time than cutting and pasting a form letter. I know brusque is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I prefer it to bland vagaries. (Well, I like to think I do.) I belong to a writing group that gets straight to the point. I review books professionally and I’m a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Yes, I sometimes get that “ouch” feeling when I get critiqued, but I always, eventually, appreciate it because it always makes my work better.

Stephen King wrote that it was a game changer for him when an editor scrawled a note on his rejected manuscript that it was too puffy and that the second draft equals the first draft minus ten percent. He took that advice to heart, pared down his stories and started getting acceptances.

Agents want to get good books out to the marketplace, and what better way to help that process than to give serious writers a teeny signpost, included in a form letter, that reflects the agent’s perspective?

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Stephen King is My Boss

Regular followers of my blog may be wondering why:

A) I am posting on a Monday and

B) what this blog post is about, anyway.

I’ve been tagged by the wonderful Sharon Roat sharonwrote.blogspot.com for the My Writing Process Blog Tour, and when tagged, the tagee answers four questions in a blog post about their writing process. Here goes.

 

Stephen King is not technically my boss, and, actually, I haven’t even read any of his fiction because when I saw the movie “Carrie” it scared me so badly that I swore off reading anything by him. Until I picked up his memoir of the craft: On Writing. I’m a sucker for plain speaking because it respects and assumes intelligence in the recipient. On Writing is plain speaking—honest, confident and funny. It was a book I could believe in, and a work ethic I could respect (minus the early drug abuse) so I modeled my working day after his.

What am I working on? 

I’m working on three things:

—a young adult novel told in three voices that includes a terrifying sailing adventure, some betrayal, some seriously bad decision-making—but is ultimately about the transcending individuation brought about by courage.

—A middle grade mystery featuring a twelve-year-old boy, his younger sisters, a missing father and a bunch of quantum physics.

—And a picture book that I am also illustrating about a suburban girl who finds a home in the natural world after being relocated to the woods by her wacky new-age parents.

How does my work differ from others in its genres?

The YA is mostly in verse and as my writing group likes to point out, it is a verse novel with tension (!!). I pitch it as Out of the Dust meets The Perfect Storm.

The middle grade has the quantum physics aspect that can almost be interpreted as magical realism, but not quite. I ran it by my older brother (who, in the ‘80’s, was completing his PhD in artificial intelligence at Stanford when he was wooed away by a dot com company. He doesn’t have to work anymore) and the science, weird as it is, he says is legit.

In the picture book, Iris, the protagonist, is the straight-man to her parents wackiness; she’s got agency up the wazoo and it also has the theme—near and dear to my heart—of getting kids out into nature.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m no spring chicken and I’ve had a lot of life experiences.

The YA is, as they say, “inspired by true events.” I knew it would make a good story the moment all the (real) pieces fell into place. The MG was an experiment. Mr. Stephen King told me (through his book) that he writes 2000 words a day; he just forges ahead, day after day. So that’s what I did. I had one image—three kids in a canoe find a blue artifact in a swamp—and from the there, I just wrote.

And the PB: “inspired by true events.”

I guess I write what I do because I like to think and I’ve got a lot of raw material.

How does my writing process work?

At 9AM I sit down in front of my computer and work until 11AM, when I have ‘elevenses.’ After elevenses, I go to work until 1PM, by which time I have hopefully written 2000 words, or I must continue to work. That’s it. Six days a week. Sometimes I draw if it’s a picture book I’m working on. Sometimes I’m on a deadline for a book review and work on that instead. But I find writing consistently is a better schedule for my muse.

“I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, skeptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral. . .the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale.”

I’m afraid I don’t remember who wrote that, but don’t you just love it.

For next week, I’ve tagged Heather Knight Richard, gal extraordinaire.

Heather grew up near the banks of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts, quite literally in the family’s pizza shop. Her historical novel in verse, FLY TO THE HILLS, is the story of a mill girl who works downstream from a faulty reservoir dam, and it recently earned Heather the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. In May Heather graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She lives and works in the same town where she once sold pizza, now as the parent of five young children (including two sets of twins!). www.hknightrichard.com

 

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Strong Men Marry Strong Women

There is a trend I’ve been noticing in the public forum lately–that of men publicly respecting their wives. Not the age-old, rather patronizing professed admiration for their mothering skills, but a real respect for them as partners beyond gender stereotype. It is perhaps most noticeable in Barack Obama. He clearly and publicly respects his wife and perhaps this has given tacit, sub-conscious permission for all strong men to publicly respect their wives. My own husband is a case in point, although he didn’t need the permission of the commander in chief to extol my virtues (as he sees them, others may disagree). He has been on my side since day one and made it no secret.

Another notable respecter-of-their-wife is mega-author Stephen King. I don’t know him personally, but I did read his “On Writing,” a book that is part memoir, part writing advice and a paragon of clear thinking. He doesn’t go on and on about how his wife, Tabitha, is the “wind beneath his wings.” He just tells it like it is, inserting her contributions into his success where they belong. There are plenty of them and they are pivotal. In this way, he is paying her the compliment of genuine respect—he’s not overstating it, and not understating it.

It’s a good trend—this trend of men being strong enough to be vulnerable enough to give someone else the credit they deserve. Women are strong. That’s just a fact. And as more and more men stop trying to ignore that and more and more women accept their own strength, we become the partners we’re supposed to be.

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