Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction

There are a lot of very good books about how to write fiction that sells, among them Don Maass's outstsanding Writing the Breakout Novel, Scott Meredith's classic Writing to Sell (out of print but well worth searching out a used copy) and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

There are also a lot of great books about how to put together a non-fiction proposal for everything from prescriptive diet books to serious history, books like Susan Rabiner's excellent Thinking Like Your Editor.

But what about narrative non-fiction, ie, non-fiction that reads like a novel? Books like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, A Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger or The Rape of Nanking by the late Iris Chang are all great examples of non-fiction that reads like a novel, a true story with prose so compelling that you simply cannot stop yourself from turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Well, I have some good news for you narrative non-fiction writers: The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write & Sell the Novel of True Events by my FinePrint colleague Peter Rubie has just been released by Quill Driver Books. Originally published by Harper Collins in the early 90s as Telling the Story, Peter has extensively revised and expanded the book to include case histories of some of today's bestselling narrative non-fiction titles, as well as plenty of hands-on advice and sample non-fiction proposals. Worth checking out!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why I Write Science Fiction: An Apology, by Alan DeNiro

My client Alan DeNiro, author of the forthcoming post-apocalyptic YA fantasy Total Oblivion, More or Less (coming in Summer 2009 from Bantam) - as well as the brilliant collection of short fiction Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead - has a wonderful - and provocative - essay up over at Bookspot Central: Why I Write Science Fiction: An Apology. Over at I09, Charlie Jane Anders goes a little more in-depth about Alan's essay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama
by poet Elizabeth Alexander

The poem recited by poet Elizabeth Alexander at today's inauguration:
Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Barack Obama's Inaugural Address: The Video

Barack Obama's Inaugural Address: The Full Transcript

For those of you who may have missed portions of this (courtesy of The Washington Post):
Obama's Inaugural Address

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Rev. Gene Robinson's Prayer for Barack Obama:

Whether you consider yourself a person of faith or not, this is a powerful prayer. Robinson eloquently drives home just how much is at stake in the coming four years while also reminding all of us to have patience: Barack Obama is just one man, and he won't be able to fix everything overnight. Keep Rev. Robinson's words in mind as you watch history being made on this extraordinary day:
A Prayer for the Nation
and Our Next President, Barack Obama

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.
You can hear the speech in its entirety here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Query in 140 Characters or Less Contest Winners!

First, can I just say? WOW! You guys really know how to rise to a challenge. And, boy howdy, did I ever give you a challenge: To come up with a great book query in 140 characters or less (the length of the average text message or Twitter post). The idea was to A.) have some fun and B.) see if I could get you all thinking about how to convey a clear story idea in a very concise way. And while it quickly became apparent to me that more than a few of you don't seem to know how to count, the majority of you managed to keep within the contest guidelines very nicely. And a few of you managed to not only hook me with your wee tiny query, but you managed to do it with a unique voice.

There were a lot of great entries, some absolutely hilarious ones, and a few that kinda made me question whether the writer was actually communicating in the English language. But there were several real standouts for me (I've added the character count and the comment poster's handle):
The Winning Query:

What would YOU do if you realized all the kids on your baseball team were vampires? Explains the night practices! Little League Sucks, YA. (138) Deb

Note: I hope this is a real book, because I loved the hook and the title. This was a really amazing - albeit brief - YA query, and shows just how much a writer can accomplish with just a few carefully chosen words. This one gets a query + first chapter critique. Go ahead and send to me as a Word document when you get the chance!
The Funniest Query:

Zombie convinces 1940s detective to find out who killed him; gumshoe discovers that dead men do, occasionally, wear plaid. (122) Anonymous

Note: Laughed for ten straight minutes over this one. And it's a really good query!
The Query that Oprah Would Like the Best:

GOD DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE Burundi 1972. 897 dead. UNSC Tribunal, N.Y. 2008. Investigator T. Riwatti. Wanted—his Tutsi father. 89K words. (140) Jim Lamb

This could either be really wonderful or painfully bad. And, although the format is non-traditional, the writer beautifully gets across the complexity of the plot in just a few words.

The Query that Most Intrigued Me:

A gunslinger must steal a necklace from the Bone Queen, a story-figure who turns visitors into lanterns and walls - or be haunted to death. (139) – Alex D M

I'm a sucker for weird and beautiful fantasy; I was hooked by this one.

The Best of the Rest:

When Kate gets an e-mail from her dead best friend she decides to channel Nancy Drew. A hotter, bitchier Nancy Drew, but you get the idea. (138) Lisa and Laura

A dying girl, coerced into acting as grim reaper for a second chance at life, falls in love with the man she was sent to kill. (126) Kat

Traveling to days in her past is fun - until her present starts changing, and the road not taken isn't all it's cracked up to be. (129) Heather

Wrong answers on an exam warp the course of history to match the student’s response, moving the world further from reality with each answer. (140) shsilver

LABYRINTH - (David Bowie and Muppets) + Fey mythology x The dirty streets of Ireland = THROUGH BENDED GRASS, a 90k contemporary Fantasy.(136) Aiden Moher

A phoenix raised by chickens guards his superstitious flock from a deadly magebird attack while discovering his true heritage (125) Darlene C. Goodman
Thanks again to all of you who took the time to enter my very first contest here at the Swivet; it really was a lot of fun to read through all of these. (And please do submit your full-length query to me when you get the chance!)

Now you get to tell me: which ones were your favorites?

Coffee lovers: From soil to cup, do you know what's in YOUR coffee?

As any long-time reader of The Swivet knows, La Gringa is obsessed with all things coffee. Lucky for me, so are some of my friends. Swiveteer Andre Mol has a great post here talking about just what goes into the making of that perfect cup of coffee.

Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops to close after 82 years.

And the death knell sounds for yet another iconic independent bookstore. Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, a landmark in the city of Milwaukee for 82 years, will be closing all four locations at the end of March.

Independent booksellers: Who are they? Why do they do what they do? And does it matter?

Brad Craft, the used book buyer at Seattle's University Books - and at one time both the manager and the inventory manager of two different Stacey's Bookstore locations in San Francisco - has posted a lovely essay on independent booksellers, who they are, why they do what they do, and what the world ultimately loses when an independent bookstore passes:
Without becoming too mired in the jargon of bookselling and publishing, let me just begin by suggesting that the whole business of books is, has always been, and Gods willing, will always be an irrational, impractical and frankly foolhardy enterprise. The suggestion that anyone can, or has, or ought to make a proper, well organized, smooth-running machine of Market Capitalism out of writing, printing, publishing or selling books, is as familiar, and touching to booksellers, however humble, as it is to anyone else who may have spent their lives in the service of books. Many a better man and woman of business than me has been broken on that wheel. Business, and in particular the business of books, has seen many an entrepreneur rise and fall in the tide of print. Many have made fortunes, or at least reputations as innovators and great capitalists from books, from the man who opened bookstalls in Victorian train-stations, to the the popularizer of classics in paperback, to Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Each is to be well remembered and applauded for their contributions to the culture as well as for their business acumen and willingness to risk their own and other people's money in such, for the time, questionably profitable gambles. But for every innovator in publishing and selling, there have always been hundreds or possibly even thousands of less daring souls, readers and retailers, bibliophiles and buyers and tradesmen more like... well, me.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This is pretty much a miracle...

A US Airways plane just crashed into the Hudson. This photo was taken by one of the folks trying to rescue the passengers. So far, looks like everyone survived. Unbelievable!

Edit to add: All passengers and crew safe and accounted for. Whew!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Contest update:

Okay, the crowds have spoken and the Swivet has listened. So, until the contest is over, I'm allowing anonymous comment posting. Knock yerselves out! (But hey! If you actually win, it would be kinda nice to have a way to let you know.)

Contest! Query in 140 Characters or Less!

Following a conversation on Twitter this morning, where I whined like a baby complained about being queried via my Twitter feed, writer Michele Lee gave me a great idea: a contest for the best query in 140 characters or less!

And thus a ridiculous idea was born. Here are the rules:
  • All queries must be 140 characters or less. Including punctuation and spaces between words. Just like on Twitter!
  • One query per person.
  • Queries must be left in the comments field of this post. Don't spam my Twitter feed!
  • Contest is open from now until midnight EST on Thursday night.
  • Top five queries will be posted on the blog.
  • Grand prize is a query and first chapter critique.
Please feel free to enter the contest even if you have an agent or are already published. I'm more curious to see how well people can convey ideas in a concise way. And fake queries are welcome; I'm sure some of them will be funny as hell.

Go!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ms. Bigfoot wants to come home with you.

Had an unexpected and wonderful visit last night with KC, a friend from the SF Bay Area; she was in town for business and we managed to find time for both delicious Cuban food and amazing profiteroles at Bouchon in the Time Warner Center. During our chat, I discovered that in addition to being a big corporate mucky-muck, my friend also makes and sells these crazy, wonderful monster dolls. Here's Ms. Bigfoot; she needs a good home:

Openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to open Obama'a inauguration with prayer.

This makes me very happy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

2008 Philip K. Dick Award Nominees Announced

This year, congratulations go out to my friend Diana Gill and the rest of the staff at Eos Books, who've racked up three out of six of this year's Philip K. Dick Award nominations. Special congrats are in order to Swivet guest blogger Lou Anders for his nomination!

Macmillan shows us how publishing really works.

Via Ron Hogan at Galleycat. Pure awesome. (And 100% true, I swear!)

Guest blogger Joanna Stampfel-Volpe: "Reader's Block or, Stop and Read a Book Once in a While!"

Until very recently, agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe was a part of the FinePrint family, starting as an intern and later coming aboard as an assistant. Those of us who worked with her could tell one thing straight away: Joanna was a natural born agent. And sure enough, within just a few months, she was taking on - and selling! - clients of her own (including a fascinating forthcoming book by Ben Hewitt on sustainability and how the organic food industry saved a small town in Vermont). At the end of 2008, Joanna moved over to work as a full-time agent with our colleague Nancy Coffey, at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation. Although we were sad to see her leave FinePrint, we're happy that we didn't lose her entirely; Nancy Coffey shares a suite of offices with FinePrint, so Joanna's only moved about fifteen feet away!

I frequently have editors and writers guest-blog here, but I've never asked another agent to talk about what it's like on the other side of the desk. Joanna kindly agreed to share her perspective on a frustration that most agents experience at one time or another:
Over the holiday break, I found myself with reader's block. For all of you writers out there who just did a double-take, yes, I said readers block. I just made it up. Although I’m positive I’m not the first person in the industry to feel this way. Let me explain.

I was on the couch, reading a requested submission and I just couldn’t get past the first page. And the writing was good. After four failed attempts I put the manuscript aside and picked up another. Same thing happened.

The next few days passed with the same results. I was frustrated (for those of you who don’t know me, this is an understatement to say the least). At one point I’m pretty sure I injured my dog with an errant rubber band flick. I unbent every paperclip in sight. I even did—gulp—all of our laundry, including bed sheets! But still, the thought of attempting another manuscript made my eyes cross.

“I think I’ve burned out,” I announced to my husband, Joe. He didn’t even get a chance to step inside our apartment yet. “I just can’t read anymore.”

Joe peered over my shoulder at the mess of paperwork on the couch, the pile of metal sticks on the coffee table, and at PeeWee, who gingerly licked at his rubber band wounds. “Let’s talk about it.”

Ah, the benefits of being a newlywed.

Joe dropped his briefcase, carefully moved a pile of papers labeled “client edits,” and sat on the couch. “So what have you read lately?”

“What have I read?!” Did he really want to get me started? “Oh, I don’t know…about a hundred queries, a manuscript about a leprechaun with a Napoleonic complex, Client X’s latest revisions…” blah, blah, blah.

Joe’s a good sport. He let me rant for at least three minutes.

“That’s nice,” he finally said. “But what books have you read?”

I stopped pacing. Wait…what was the last book I read?

“Identical, Ellen Hopkins.”

“Great. When was that?”

“Thanksgiving...” I reluctantly admitted.

Joe was quiet for a minute. Then he stood up, walked over to our bookshelves and pulled out the newest Dennis L. McKiernan (I’m a closet Mithgar junkie and he knows it). I had bought the book as soon as it came out in October. I meant to read it...when I had the time….

“Come with me.”

I followed Joe down the hall and into our bedroom.

“Now lie down and read.”

Had he even been listening to me?!! “I can’t read!” At this point I was near tears. I mean, before this I could always read. No matter where I was, I could always get sucked into a new world. And now that magic was GONE.

“Joanna,” Joe said more sternly. “Lie down and read.”

Being the other newlywed, I relented. I swiped the book from his hand and made myself cozy.

It took a few minutes, and a few bouts of actually forcing myself to sloooooow down. But it worked. The words pulled me in, one by one. I connected with the characters (Aravan, my love!). It was just like old times.

I stopped—reluctantly—to eat dinner and to feed PeeWee, who forgave me for my earlier actions as soon as his kibble hit his bowl. By the time Joe climbed into bed, I was more than half way done. At 3:42 a.m., I closed the back cover over, fully satisfied.

Only I wasn’t satisfied. After I turned out the light, the story kept replaying in my mind. I wanted more. What happens to the characters now? Oh, I hope Dennis (isn’t it great how you’re on a first-name-basis with an author when you read their work?) writes another soon….

This is what I had been missing.

The next morning I had errands to run, we had plans that evening, and I needed to shower, but something kept pulling me to my pile of submissions. I wanted to meet new characters, to go on new adventures. Dennis’ book left me wanting more. And that’s really what good writing does.

That’s when I realized what Joe was trying to tell me. There was nothing wrong with the manuscripts or the writing or even the queries. I just needed something to remind me what all of those submitted pages could become. I needed a reminder of why I joined this industry, why I even became a reader in the first place.

Nothing beats a good book.

I once heard that Stephen King reads for four hours and day and writes for four hours a day. Now, it’s true that Stephen King could attribute his success to scrambled eggs and beer for breakfast and we would probably all take his advice, but I think he has something there on the reading part. It’s our way, as persons in the publishing industry, of smelling the roses.

Joe came home early from work that night for our evening plans. He found me on the couch, PeeWee curled up next to me, a manuscript on my lap and ...unshowered. But he didn’t get mad. Ah, newlyweds!
You can learn more about what Joanna's looking for at her Publishers Marketplace site. Additionally, she says:
What I'm dying to find is a good, dark teen read for boys. Think Stand By Me meets Catcher in the Rye, but with a more modern voice. For girls, I would love to see a gothic romance for teens...if someone could pull it off. As for adult work I'd really like to find an urban fantasy with a strong, female lead. All of that being said, voice is what matters most, so if the voice and writing are spot on, it doesn't matter what it's about, I'll definitely be giving it a second look.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Adventures in outer borough living.

As some of you who know me in "real life" may know, the apartment where I live is not exactly the be-all end-all of New York apartment dwelling. (I hesitate to call it "my" apartment, as I don't wish to be associated with it. You may consider me the Alan Smithee of tenants if that helps.)

I live in the upper part of a two-storey row house in the pit of outer borough suburbia called East Elmhurst, just off the final runway approach to La Guardia Airport. (Why, hello there, giant 767! Thanks for sharing the spectacular view of your landing gear deploying one hundred feet above my head!) A row house is a long, skinny dwelling that is designed to suck all available sunlight in through the front window and render it completely inert by the time it hits the middle of the living room. By the time you reach the back of the house, you are walking in a sea of blackness. But thank God for the paper-thin walls that let you hear every whispered conversation and drunken brawl of the neighbors on both your left and right; otherwise you might be led to believe that you were living inside a sensory deprivation chamber.

The front door is made of plywood panels and last saw a paint job sometime during the Eisenhower administration. The remaining paint hangs off in great sheets and pretty much every day ends up getting tracked into the house on the bottoms of shoes. The lock on the front door is tempermental, to say the least. It locks and unlocks whenever it has a mind to, whether or not a key is involved. The front concrete stairs that lead off the porch to the ground (ie, the only way out of the house) are literally crumbling to pieces. As in, when you step on them the wrong way, they crumble to dust under your feet. One step is about 40% gone, the one beneath is starting to go and three others have developed the same cracks. My housemate and I have made an art out of jumping over the broken steps without breaking any limbs.

And the bathroom is also an exercise in extreme sports. There's a broken skylight in the bathroom ceiling, ostensibly to let in fresh air and let out moisture, but it no longer opens and - instead - a sheet of metal-encased glass hangs precariously on two hinges from the ceiling over your head when you are sitting on the throne. While I've come to terms with the inevitability of my own death by decapitation while perched on the potty, I suspect that any houseguest who ventures into the bathroom may be far less zen about it.

And then there's the roof.

About a week before Christmas, I woke to discover that an entire seam in my ceiling had split open and it was - for all intents and purposes - raining in my bedroom. We're not talking a drip here and there. We're talking a ten-foot long Niagara Falls running down the middle of my bedroom. Directly over my bed. Where I was sleeping at the time. The cats were soaked, I was soaked and pretty much everything in my bedroom was soaked. And, for reasons I don't care to speculate on, a great deal of the water coming down was jet black and...chunky.

I called the landlord. And called the landlord. And called the landlord. And then went next door to the neighbor (who is the landlord's sister), home of Milo-the-Puggle-Who-Hates-Me, and asked the neighbor to keep calling the landlord for me while I tried to get some things out of the bedroom: paintings, shoes, books, clothes, etc. The bed was already ruined and much of my bedding was covered in the black water as well. And it was raining outside. A lot. So it continued to rain in my apartment. For three full days. And the water was running directly through the light fixture over my bed. On day two, the exterior wall also opened up, and water began running down the inside of the wall into my downstairs neighbor's apartment. The downstairs neighbor who was in Colombia at the time.

The landlord eventually called me back. Seven hours later. And then showed up the next day, wringing his hands about the cost of insurance and how much it costs to fix roofs. And then he looked at my wretched already-beginning-to mildew-mattress and said "Oh, you can dry that out! It'll be fine." Three days later, he finally got someone to climb up there and throw a tarp over the hole in the roof. And there it sits still, ladies and gentlemen, flapping in the breeze. On the still not-fixed roof.

Fast forward to last night:

I've been waiting for the mattress to dry out so that my housemate and I could actually get it out of the apartment. It's a futon mattress; futon mattresses aren't the most maneuverable things in the world when they're dry. When they're wet, they are unmoveable.

My housemate works in the entertainment business and thus gets home very late most nights.We frequently don't see each other for days because of her work schedule. So, in order to actually get the damned thing out of the house on Big Item Garbage Day (a party day in the outer boroughs, to be sure!), I'd asked her to wake me up when she got home so she could help me drag the mattress out to the curb. Thus we found ourselves at 2:00 AM wrestling a mildewed futon mattress out to the curb in 20 degree weather. By force of habit, my roommate pulled the door shut behind her to keep the cats from escaping. Neither of us relished chasing Stinkyboy all over the neighborhood in below-freezing weather.

Those of you who have been paying attention probably already know what happened next: Mattress disposed of, we headed back up to the porch where we discovered - to our complete horror - that the door had locked itself behind us. Neither of us had keys or a phone. More importantly, neither of us had a coat or gloves or a hat. (Truth in fact, I was actually wearing only a hoody, boots and a pair pajama bottoms so raggedy that one might be able to see portions of my posterior should one actually bother looking at my backside.)

My roommate tried to open the windows, but - being that we're both pretty security-conscious - they were latched down tight. Then we went to the neighbor's house, figuring that they might have keys and, at the very least, would let us use the phone. Thirty minutes of doorbell ringing and door pounding later, they still hadn't woken up. Another fifteen minutes of extreme door pounding and finally the door opened. Neighbor lady did not, in fact, have keys to her brother's house but she did call our landlord. Over and over and over again. No response. (Gee, what a surprise!) And then she shut the door in our faces. We headed to the pub around the corner, where Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens, plied us with Jameson's whiskey, pretzels and bootleg Bruce Lee movies on his laptop. He also let us use the phone to call a locksmith.

Thirty minutes and nearly $300 later, we were back inside our apartment and a nice Israeli kid named Sol was handing us two shiny new keys to the place. Which I am going to go get duplicated this afternoon, so that I can leave a set with Shane the Most Awesome Bartender in Queens.

And yes, in case you were wondering? We're making the landlord pay for the mattress AND the locksmith.

Good times, kids! Good time!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christopher Tolkien polishing up new Phone Book of Middle Earth...

Okay, it's not really the Phone Book of Middle Earth.

Christopher Tolkien, son of the late JRR Tolkien, has found and edited yet another "long lost" unpublished work of his father's, this time an English translation of the Norse epic "The Phone Book of Sigurd" er, um, I mean The College Education of Peter Jackson's Kids...wait, no it's the Tales of Sigurd the Völsung and the Fall of the Niflungs. Yeah, that's it.

Does anyone else think that the reason these works were unpublished is possibly because Papa Tolkien wanted them that way? Just a thought.

Carrie Vaughn talks urban fantasy: what is it and where does it go wrong?

New York Times-bestselling urban fantasy author Carrie Vaughn has posted an excellent three-part essay about urban fantasy:
Part One: The Formula
Part Two: When Things Go Wrong (Pay careful attention to Item #5!)
Part Three: Deconstructing Urban Fantasy

Interview with agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC.

Pop culture blog Talking With Tim has a wonderfully in-depth interview with agent Jessica Faust, co-founder of the BookEnds agency. Go read it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stacey's Bookstore, the oldest and best independent bookstore in San Francisco, will be closing its doors forever in March.

Stacey's Bookstore, the oldest continually-operating bookstore in San Francisco, will be closing its doors in March after 85 years of serving San Francisco book buyers.

To say that I was stunned by this news would be the understatement of the year. Stacey's Bookstore was a part of my maturation as a bookseller and book industry professional. I worked there for years, first at the Stacey's computer book annex on the Embarcadero as a bookseller, and later - when that location closed - around the corner at the flagship store on Market Street, moving into various roles as bookseller, floor manager, inventory geek and eventually the marketing and events manager. Founded in 1923, it was (and still is, for now!) an amazing bookstore, focused primarily on business and computer books, 27,000 square feet of glorious book-nerdom, lovingly maintained by a staff of some of the most knowledgable and passionate booksellers one could ever hope to meet or have the pleasure to work with.

My friend and former manager at the Stacey's annex, Brad Craft (who is now the used book buyer at U. Books in Seattle) just posted a lovely tribute to Stacey's on his blog; the San Francisco Chronicle has more on the closing here. And here's a slice of history: a profile of Stacey's on its 75th anniversary from a 1998 feature by former San Francisco Chronicle Book Review Editor Pat Holt, in her column Holt Uncensored. (Scroll down to #4.)

I'll have more to say on this later. Right now I'm still in shock; frankly, all I want to do is find a quiet corner and have a good cry.

Edit to add: Ed Champion has a nice post about Stacey's closing, and SFist has a great comments thread going on.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The proper way to sit through a thirteen-hour Lord of the Rings marathon

Bantam Spectra editor David Pomerico has a very funny post up over at Suvudu about how to properly prepare one's self for sitting through the annual thirteen-hour Lord of the Rings film marathon. And yes, this is an annual occurrence for a particular breed of nerd. ( :: mumble mumble :: me! :: cough cough ::)

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year, New Update!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Today I was officially back to work at the agency (although I sort of cheated a bit over the holidays and started getting caught up on queries). I thought I'd first take the time to quickly welcome new readers and reiterate a few basic things for those of you who may not have been following along from the beginning:
First, I'm happy to receive queries from anyone who wants to send one. However, do note that I no longer accept paper submissions. I haven't since June of 2008. All snail mail queries that come to my attention at the agency go right into the recycling bin. I make some exceptions for graphic novel queries, and those exceptions are spelled out in my submissions guidelines. For everything else, email only, please.

Please don't send me attachments unless I write to you and ask for them. Queries with unsolicited attachments are deleted without being read. What constitutes an attachment? Anything at all that isn't just the text on the screen. Don't send jpgs or tiffs, mp3s or pdfs. Don't send vcf cards. Don't send a company logo or a scan of your signature. Don't send animated gifs. If your email software attaches those funky little windat files to your emails, get rid of them. Basically, all we want to see in an emailed query are words on the screen. Period.

I don't represent screenplays, nor does anyone else at FinePrint.

I don't represent poetry; ditto the above.

While I have a particular interest in SF/F, YA, YA SF/F and LGBT fiction, in point of fact I'll happily look at a query for just about any kind of fiction except religious or Christian fiction. If you simply aren't sure about your manuscript, send me a query. I'll tell you if I think it's too faith-based for me and point you toward some very good agents who do represent faith-based fiction. Additionally, I'm probably not your best bet for category romance. But everything else is fair game!
Okay, now that that's out of the way, a quick update:
Fulls & Partials: I know I've been very behind in responding to fulls and queries. Mea culpa! I've starting getting caught up and some of you have already heard from me today. I'm going to be spending the month of January getting caught up on all fulls and partials I still have outstanding.

Queries: For the most part, I'm now caught up on queries through the middle of December. There are a handful from November that I'm still holding onto because sometimes I have to sit on a query for a little if I get a good feeling about it and I'm just not sure yet. But I'll get through the rest of those this week.
That's about it. I'll be offline for a little while this week. I'm sure y'all can entertain yourselves!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dear overwriters of the world:

Y'all need to read this great post about your particular affliction over at Moonrat's blog.

Baby steps, ya'll. Baby steps.