Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writerly Pearls of Wisdom: Part 2--and Adieu!

Here it is, the culmination of three years of amazing insight, dedication, and utmost humility. (This last attribute is probably the most important for a writer because, if you choose this wonderful writer's life, you are going to have to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.)

As I did yesterday, I leave you with the words of some of my dearest writer pals. And remember, the readiness is all. (Feeling so Hamlety today.)

From Jennifer Rumberger, one of my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday mates:

Never give up. No matter how hard the writing life gets, just keep at it! Also surround yourself with writing friends. Their support is invaluable.

Jennifer recommends: A book everyone should read in 2013 is Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Her best book yet!

And, from another excellent middle grade writer and blogger, Barbara Watson

A quote that is probably well known in the writer's world but I just read on a blog last week. I didn't cross-reference the source to make sure it's worded properly and are, in fact, his exact words, but it's been helping me each time I place fingertips to keyboard since I read it: You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree looks like. Tell them what makes this one different. ~Neil Gaiman 

R.L. Saunders is an pal represented by Linda Epstein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (same agency as me). Read her blog. She's funny as all get-out: Writers figure out what works for them: writing schedules, lighting, inspiring coffee creamer flavors, outlining, 67 crit partners, not outlining, magic query templates, lucky sweatpants--that sort of thing. Then they get really excited about figuring out what works and they write blog posts about it because it feels SO RIGHT. And it is right. For them. Your job is to work hard at figuring out what works for you. There are lots of rules and tips for writers at every stage of the process. Take them with a grain of salt (like the rule about avoiding idioms) because they're really only suggestions you might try on. Just remember that what looks hot on Michael G-G might make your ass look big.
But seriously, avoid idioms. And never, ever wear sweatpants that are fewer than seven years old while you write or you'll never be published.

One of our new Project Mayhem team, Dianne Salerni is the author of We Hear The Dead and The Caged Graves (Clarion 2013): "Success in writing requires patience and persistence. You have to accept that it will take longer than you want. Your books might not get published in the order you wrote them, and some might not get published at all. Without the patience to wait for the right opportunity or the persistence to keep writing book after book, you might lose out on what you seek most -- just before it arrives."

I have long sung Beth Kephart's praises. To my mind, she is one of the most lyrical writers around. (Go here to see my review of her masterful novels, You Are My Only and Small Damages): 
"Every now and then remember the fat black sleepy cats and worn rugs and handwritten signs of the nearest used book store.  Remember, in other words, the books that aren’t on today’s lists, in today’s blogs, in today’s fever.  Much of what is good and golden and teach-worthy and inspired was written years ago and should not be shunned for its age or yellow paper.  Paper, yes paper.  Visit a used bookstore.  Take something classic home.  Let the spine crack and the glue shimmer.  Let words be ageless for you."

Laura Stanfill is the genius behind Brave on the Page, Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life. Meeting Laura and being part of her project was one of the great gifts of last year:

 "It's great fun to learn about how different writers approach the page, but there's no one right way. Do what works for you. Do it well. Do it consistently. Show up and work as often as you can. And don't worry if someone else swears that your method is wrong. If it works for you, then keep doing it. In putting together Brave on the Page, a collection of essays and interviews about the writer's life, I had forty-two people--including Michael--address different aspects of the craft from their own perspectives. Everyone had something different--and equally wonderful--to share about how they approach their work. We must remember to use others' journeys as inspiration, not as a way to find fault with ourselves. I learned this lesson, finally, when I became a mom. There are so many parenting books out there, and I spent the first few years worrying that I was doing something--or lots of things--wrong based on how self-assured many of those authors were with their one-size-fits-all advice. So focus on the page, on your own work, and question your methods in order to nurture your own growth as a writer--not because someone else tells you to." 

April Henry has been a mentor of mine ever since our children attended the same elementary school. She is the New York Times best-selling author of over a dozen novels. Her latest is The Night She Disappeared. April was on deadline when I contacted her, but her blog has a ton of good advice. The one thing she stressed was: Tenacity is as important as talent. I heartily agree!

C.Alexander London is the author of the An Accidental Adventure Series. He is the sort of wildly funny middle grade writer I aspire to be. Here's what he had to say: The worst writing you ever do is better than the best writing you never do. 

The author of May B., and a Project Mayhem stalwart, Caroline Starr Rose, always has wise words to share: 
"The piece of writerly advice I've clung to the last few years is this: Learn to write this book. It's attributed to Elizabeth Bear but came to me via J. Anderson Coats. It has been hugely freeing for me to discover that while systems and goals and blah blah blah sometimes work, sometimes they don't. Each book is its own animal. You really do start over every time. And it's OKAY."

I've known Rosanne Parry, the author of Heart of a Shepherd and Second Fiddle for many years, and she is a dear friend, mentor and supporter. We share the same critique group as well as the same agent, Stephen Fraser. "Our agent is my preferred vendor of literary pearls. Here are a few favorites. "You're making art, it's supposed to take time." and "I find the authors who enjoy longevity are the ones who do not stop writing." (Rosanne's new novel, Written in Stone, will be published in June 2013.)

Another critique group member and friend is Barbara Liles. Barbara was the recipient of the 2011 Oregon Literary Fellowship, has written a great novel about the Norse in Greenland which any editor worth their salt should publish, and was recently a contestant on a Norwegian reality TV show. Her pearl is the one on which I choose to end because, really, where has the time gone?: "Do not be surprised, that time, for a writer, is a strange and flexible dimension."

Thank you all for being my companions on this wonderful writer's journey. I hope you will continue to visit me at Middle Grade Mafioso and Project Mayhem. Till then, may your writing be dangerous and your spirits stalwart. Adieu.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Last Post: Part One

It's hard putting a blog to bed. I realized that after I put out a call for submissions for Writerly Pearls of Wisdom and was flooded both with kind notes and good advice. In fact, I received so much good advice that I've decided to break it up into two posts, one today and one tomorrow. I believe that these two posts tell you just about everything you need to know about the writer's life; I will definitely return to them in the days ahead for inspiration, wisdom, and support.

I realized, too, how blessed I've been during these three years to get to know all of  the writers mentioned here. (I knew several of the Portland writers, but blogging has opened a whole new world to me, not just of the mind but also geographically. There are quotes here from writers in Thailand and New Zealand!) Thank you all for helping me along the way.

Today's post will feature some specifics about writing--about the query process, about good blogs to visit and about craft. Tomorrow's will be more general inspiration. So, without further ado, here come some

Writerly Pearls of Wisdom:

From my dear friend, Matthew MacNish, a partner in Project Mayhem Crime as well as the doyen of queriers with his amazing The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment: Here's my three Cs rule: "A good query letter covers the three Cs, succinctly and with specificity: Character, Conflict, and Choice."

From another Project Mayhemmer--and prolific author, Chris Eboch:

Show Don’t Tell. No doubt you've heard this phrase before, but writers often have a hard time understanding exactly what it means. Here’s the best explanation I’ve heard:

Showing uses specific sensory details -- what your main character can see, hear, smell, taste or touch -- to bring the scene to life. When showing emotion, this might be something like stomach churning or head pounding. You can also show by giving us a character’s actions (for example, crying, laughing, trembling, gasping, clenching her fists, etc.).

Avoid telling -- summarizing or explaining -- what's going on or how your main character feels. Anytime you define an emotion (someone is angry, worried etc.), you're probably telling. If you can't clearly observe it through the five senses, it's likely telling. For example, I can see a frown, I can hear yelling, but I can't see or hear "anger" – only its symptoms. People express anger in different ways (one person might yell and frown, while another forces a smile and keep silent) so showing rather than telling not only paints a clear picture, but also lets us know something about the character.

I did a series on Voice on my blog, with information about Show, Don’t Tell.

Janice Hardy talks a lot on her blog, The Other Side of the Story (, about showing rather than telling. Click on the link to "Description" or do a search for Show Don't Tell. She also does regular critiques of her followers’ work and often points out show don’t tell issues.

Natalie Aguirre is one of the extraordinary bloggers behind Literary Rambles, which is a must-read for all writers searching for agents. Natalie has been a wonderful supporter of my blogging efforts, and is a super human being. Here's a list of her favorite blogs: 

For finding out about agents:
Guide to Literary Agents ( In addition to our blog, Literary Rambles, this is a great resource for finding agents and learning about the querying and publishing process. Chuck Sambuchino often spotlights newer agents, has some agent interviews, and also runs agent contests. 

On the craft of writing:
The Other Side of the Story ( This is author Janice Hardy's blog and she offers fantastic posts about the craft of writing. She always uses great examples too.

On the business side of writing:
Pub Rants ( Agent Kristin Nelson (one of my dream agents and also Janice Hardy's agent) shares so much practical advice on the business side of publishing and agents on her blog. I always learn from her posts.

For good discussion and resources:
Stina Lindenblatt ( Stina blogs Mondays and Wednesdays and often shares insightful reviews of books and software products relating to the craft of writing. She also picks great topics to discuss.

YA author Elana Johnson ( Elana honestly shares a lot of her experiences from going from an aspiring author to a published, mid-level author and just blogs about interesting subjects in general.

I have reviewed two of New Zealand author Susan Brocker's books on Project Mayhem. I would love to see her exciting stories, often featuring children and their relationships with animals, breakout in the U.S. market!! She's a fantastic writer, as well as a kind correspondent. Here are two of her favorite tips for good writing: Write about what you love and feel passionate about and then this energy will flow through in your writing. And Write! Write! Write! Writing is a craft and the more you write the better you get.

Mike Winchell is a Project Mayhem pal, and someone on whom I have counted to give me loads of good advice. A summary of which he is now kind enough to share with us all:

On Querying: Remember that your future agent will work FOR YOU, and that you want someone who will fight their asteroids off for you, and make you as high a priority as their Newberry winners. You need to have someone who doesn't talk down to you, and you don't want someone who's "giving you a chance." You want someone who thinks you're giving them a chance. Too many writers feel inferior to their agents, and this is a recipe for a future divorce.

When you are sure your query is there and your manuscript is too, query widely. Send out a few at first to some agents. If you query draws quick requests, and your initial pages do as well, go wide with another 20-25. If you get an offer, send an immediate "OFFER OF REPRESENTATION" email. Then watch how quickly the emails come. But like I said, this is only if your query/pages are there.

On Attitude: If your "stuff" is good, be confident! Agents want writers who don't just think they belong, they want writers who KNOW it. Confidence is key. Not cockiness, but confidence. Write with it. Query with it. Live with it.

On Being on Submission with Editors: It sucks! The waiting is horrible and it is best to start writing something fresh ASAP., it's nearly impossible not to be obsessive. We all get that way. 

I 'met' Dan Ogilvie through Microfiction Monday. He's a Brit who lives in Thailand, and he always makes me laugh. In my e-mail to writers, I asked about advice or any "best of" they could think of. Dan came through with this:
Best film seen recently: Arbitrage with Richard Gere.
Best book read while flying: Tina Fey, Bossypants (‘…she looked like a Liza Minnelli doll that had been damaged in a fire…’).
Best ‘art of writing’ book: The Art of Fiction by David Lodge.
I am currently listening to: Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower.
Favourite cartoon website:
Strangest event so far for 2013: Sitting in a hotel bar in Orlando during a Highland Games weekend. Lots of kilts and sporrans but not a Scottish accent to be heard. Was Sam Adams Scottish?
My wish for 2013: Mitt Romney outs himself on Oprah and announces he has been in a tempestuous ten year relationship with Lance Armstrong. ‘We are having a ball together’ he cries before adding ‘we have made an application to adopt Benjamin Netanyahu’.[Told you he had a "wicked" sense of humor.]

I'm not sure how I came across Kristen Wixted, but I am very glad I did. Her blog Don't Forget the Samovar showcases her great sense of humor. She is also newly agented, with her agent being Michele Rubin at Writers House. I see great things for Kristen on the horizon. Here are her tips as a writer Mom with three kids:

Leave the laundry, leave the dishes, don't think about any of it. When you've worked on your writing for at least 90 minutes, if you need a break, then throw in a load of clothes or dishes. Not before. Consider the housework the small exercise break you need to get the kinks out before getting back to work. Then forget about it all again and sit down with your manuscript.

Also, I like to be religious about having everything I need to get my writing done at my desk and no one (i.e. afore mentioned 3 kids, and husband) is allowed to touch it. This includes paper, pens that work, tissues, (more recently) my glasses and a little notepad for scribbling down notes to myself about things I need to get done when I'm done writing. Oh, and I also like to have both my cell phone and my home phone nearby for screening calls (I only answer certain people's calls when I'm working) and obviously, my laptop and power cord.

I will take Kristen's advice and go and do my exercise (loading the dishwasher.) I love this type of exercise regimen!! And I'll be back tomorrow with a final FINAL POST. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Happy New Year and all that. As I wrote over on Middle Grade Mafioso, it's been a hard few weeks, what with brain surgery (my wife), vertigo (me), and overall winter blahs (the whole family). But my time away from blogging put things in perspective, and I realized that the time has come to put The Year of Writing Dangerously to bed.

Yes, I know you're all crying and sad, but let me explain. This was supposed to be the chronicle of a writing year and it's been going on for nearly three. In the meantime I have another blog (Middle Grade Mafioso) which seems to be garnering a following, and a group blog--Project Mayhem--which is completely awesome, and for which I only have to write once a month. Which is about the extent, blogging-wise, which I seem able to bestir myself nowadays. (Since I spend all my time spouting off on Twitter and Facebook.)

To blog well, you have to blog consistently and often. It got to the point with TYOWD, where I would feel guilty because I hadn't posted in weeks, and I felt like a neglectful parent. And I'm anti-guilt.

So, I will count my blessings and bid this blog adieu. And the blessings have been many:

  • Since I started in February 2010, I've "met" a whole bunch of great people. I'm blessed to call a lot of them friends. 
  • I've learned a lot about writing from reading and blogging about "craft" books.
  • Microfiction Monday honed my skills as a 140-character writer, which is why I rock at Twitter.
  • Because of this blog, and particularly my friendship with Matt MacNish, I got the opportunity to be part of Project Mayhem, and to meet even more spectacular writers and good people.
There have also been major changes in my writing life:
  • When I started blogging I didn't have a literary agent. Now I do.
  • I am even more wedded to creating new writing. (I have two manuscripts in various stages of revision, and ideas for a third.)
  • I am much more astute about the value of social media. As an "outgoing introvert" I enjoy connecting with others on this writing journey through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • And my blogging led to a connection with the great Laura Stanfill, a Portland writer and mentor extraordinaire, who published a book called BRAVE ON THE PAGE, in which I have a small chapter, and for which I was part of a well-attended public reading.
I plan to do one final post on February 6th, which will be my three-year blogoversary to the day. I hope to have as many pals as possible share pearls of writerly wisdom which will live on in the blogdom for all eternity. Thanks for being part of this amazing journey.