Friday, February 26, 2010

Mea Culpa

Sometimes when you step back and take a break from the routine, it frees up some time to do catch up work. To finally take a moment and check on things that you otherwise take for granted. To step out of the daily routine and look to see if those processes you have in place are actually working. That's what's been happening around here since I started my break from queries.

And lo and behold, I discovered a hiccup in the process we had in place to receive email queries. Somewhere along the way some switch may have tripped or some auto system may have reset and it looks as though some queries sent to our queries email box may never have reached their destination -- all totally unbeknownst to me. While it's not surprising that I missed that technological misstep (remember, I'm the one born in the era of black and white TV), we are all totally baffled that it was never brought to our attention in any way, until our web hosting company advised us that we were about to overflow our quota of space and Naomi began her investigation.

Sadly, we don't know how long this may have been going on and whether some of these lost queries made it through anyway or by other means.

But for those of you who submitted queries to that mailbox and never received any response from our agency, YOU HAVE MY SINCEREST APOLOGIES.

We always respond to mail that comes to us and we'll always say "no thank you" if we're not interested in your project. So if you submitted and didn't hear anything, it's likely your query ended up in this lost and lost chasm that developed in our website.

So, again, I apologize. Mea Culpa. The problem has been fixed. All systems are now working and we will ensure that they are fully operational at all times from now on. So, if you're still looking for an agent for that project, PLEASE query us again in May.

(Remember the break only applies to projects directed to me, Naomi continues to accept YA queries at

Thanks, Elaine

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Interiority and Voice

Our society is becoming increasingly image-driven. And although it is true that an image is worth a thousand words, as fiction writers it is important for us to remember that a novel is not a screenplay, and that although strong images are necessary building blocks of memorable fiction, the narrative form begs for interiority.

Every character sees the world in a different way. So that if a certain section of the novel is a close POV on one character (as it often happens), then actions and objects noticed are uniquely his/hers, so that if the same scene were told from another character’s perspective, it would seem completely different; even the “facts” of the events might differ. Stories do not have to be factual, but they should be truthful.

This is not to say that the narrator cannot pull back and use the tools of an omniscient POV (in fact, omniscience is vastly useful if done well), but that the writer needs to keep in mind, at all points, just who is filtering the story. Obviously, the type of interiority in a given work depends on the author’s choice of POV. I want to clarify that by “interiority” I don’t mean a constant bombardment of “She thought…” I mean utilizing every opportunity to illuminate the character’s interior want. As Grace Paley puts so succinctly, “The job of the writer is to illuminate what is hidden.”

Filtering plot through a unique perspective, personality, and set of opinions is also a step toward achieving a unique voice.

Creative Writing MFA

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Details Matter

“Write what you know.” I’m sure each of you has heard this phrase at some point in your life. Of course, you might say that if we all wrote what we knew, that could be rather boring. Part of the great fun of writing is leaving the realm of reality behind to explore what you have never known but have always wished you did.

That’s all well and good, but make sure to do your research first because the details matter.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read a partial or full manuscript only to find that some of the finer details don’t add up. If your character hails from Lisbon, why is she speaking in Spanish instead of Portuguese? If her family is so poor that they can hardly provide food and shelter, why is she carrying around an iPod? If the American government has a strong presence in her small town, how is she getting married at age fourteen in this day and age?

When the details don’t fit with the story or the characters, they stick out—and not in a good way. They show sloppiness and a lack of research, and as they add up, the story becomes much less believable and, in turn, less appealing. Then it becomes much more likely that I will not recommend requesting a full manuscript or representing a story.

Perhaps it would be best to return to the strategies of “Creative Writing 101” and create a character web, writing up every possible detail involving your character, from her ancestry to a list of her past relationships—even if you never mention them in the story. If you’re writing about a time or place you’re unfamiliar with, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to pay the library a visit in order to research and learn as much as you can about what you want to write. (However, I will say that I wouldn’t recommend movies, which are often quite fictionalized.) It might seem tedious in the short term, but in the long run, it will make your story that much stronger, more believable, and more likely to be published.

When writing, it’s fine not to write about what you know. You just need to remember to ask yourself, even when writing fiction, “Do all the details make sense together? Is this believable?”

Unless, of course, you’re writing a story that takes place in a fantastical alternate universe, in which case, suspension of belief is acceptable—even encouraged.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plot and Character (and an exercise)

When reading submissions, I have noticed that authors often have trouble weaving together action and character. This means that the story halts in one aspect to give room for the development of the other, creating a slow pace and, often, an uninteresting read. Or, a worse mistake is to present one but not the other, the most common bias being all action and no character.

In good writing, plot and character are intrinsically intertwined. Author Stephanie Grant says that plot is the exteriorization of the internal state. That is, one of its main functions is to illuminate character.

Imagine a woman walking into a bar. She is young and beautiful, and has just arrived in town to visit her sister. But right now she is alone, and sits down on a bar stool, opens her purse (one of those big ones with a silver latch) and takes out a tube of lipstick. An attractive man sits down next to her and hits on her. What happens now?

Out of this generic situation, something telling could happen that both illuminate character and advance the story.

Think up 25 reactions. The number (25) is meant to be big so that the generic reactions quickly run out, and we get into some really interesting ones. For example, she could slap him, throw water on him, flirt back, ignore him, try to start a conversation about 19th century art, ask him for an expensive drink, jump up on the bar and yell that he’s the baby daddy, take out a knife and stab him, take his picture, ask him to marry her, ask him to marry her sister, ask him to kill her sister, and the list goes on.

The first few reactions are disgustingly plain. They tell the reader almost nothing about the woman, and do not drive forward plot in any significant way.

Don’t settle for stereotypical actions that say nothing and fall flat. In fiction, actions are meaningful. And if only for aesthetic purposes, readers prefer freshness over banality.

Creative Writing MFA

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

There are alternatives to Amazon

I'm sure by now everyone is quite aware of the "battle" that raged over the weekend between Macmillan and Amazon as Macmillan asserted it's right to protect the pricing of its ebooks. I think secretly a lot of other publishers were delighted to see one of their own stand up to Amazon.

I have to admit that I also applauded Macmillan's stand. Even though it could mean that authors might get less royalties on e-book sales in the sort term, something seemed wrong with the principle that authors' books were being used merely as loss leaders for sales of a company's device. Call me wary of large monopolies who try to dictate terms to an entire industry. Particularly, when that industry is one in which I play a part, financially and as an advocate for my authors.

But what a huge price Macmillan is having to play for it stance! But of course, it's not only Macmillan, it's really all of its authors and even those readers of Macmillan authors who typically buy through Amazon. While it appears that Macmillan and Amazon have reached an agreement or are about to, many (most) of the buy-buttons for Macmillan books still remain inactive.

One of my authors, Gail Dayton, who writes for Tor is caught in this power struggle, as are all of her readers and fans of her latest steampunk romance, Heart's Blood, released in December.

While it's true you can buy new copies of her book through Amazon's third party program, why not buy elsewhere? Why give Amazon your businessat all? Vote with your pocketbooks as to whether you approve of Amazon's negotiating tactics, by checking out Gail's and other books at such sites as,, and

There are alternatives to Amazon.