Thursday, July 18, 2019

When Being Proactive Becomes a Vice

"After sending queries you will have to endure long periods of helplessness where you cannot take any action toward the agents you queried without harming your prospects. Plan accordingly."

I'm used to being proactive. In everything else I've ever done being proactive is a virtue. At restaurants the management motto was, "Time to lean means time to clean." Amazingly, studying in college caused better grades. The Army beat the necessity of being proactive into me so well I get antsy without an ongoing crisis because that means I'm missing important information (really).

But after I hit send on a query/pages being proactive becomes a vice. All I can do is wait, drive myself half mad trying to read twitter tea-leaves that I know are likely meaningless, and send the occasional email to that one agent I haven't queried or somehow irritated into ignoring me yet. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. Even when some jackwagon was shooting rockets at me in Iraq I could choose to take cover or ignore it.

Maybe if I'd known up front how tough not being able to do anything was going to be I'd have had a plan to use some of the angst-generated energy constructively. As it is I'm just now coming to terms with productive ways to cope, a year in. Or maybe I'd still have driven myself nuts anyway.

 I'm glad the jackwagons had bad aim.

I bet the blog readers have some coping mechanisms.

Here are three of mine.
You can guess which one doesn't belong.

What are your coping strategies for The Long Wait?

"cin cin"

Yum Yum

Hubba hubba

yea right

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Writing book #2 on a two-book deal

Since two-book deals seem to be fairly common and the second book should be similar to the first in terms of genre and audience, I’m wondering how similar the second book should be.  I realize I’m putting the cart before the horse a bit as I’m just getting ready to query, but as I’m starting my next novel I was curious.  As an example, if the first is upmarket historical fiction, can the second be contemporary?  How different is too different?

The cart is not only in front of the horse, it's been loaded on a barge and shipped downriver. The horse can't even see it anymore.

This question falls in the rodent-wheel category: things you should not worry about at all right now.

The reason is that what you will need for your second novel is entirely dependent on the deal you strike for Book #1. The editor/publisher will have a LOT of say in it, and you can't begin to guess what they want cause the book hasn't been subbed, let alone sold.

Even if there is a common practice of what kind of book it will most likely be, you may not be in that category.

If you're thinking about what to write while you're on submission to agents, write what you want. When you acquire representation, you and  your agent will put  your heads together to strategize what's next.

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dispatches from the Consult Fest Battle of Wits 2019

Over the course of four days last week at ThrillerFest, I met with 43 writers to discuss their query or pages, sometimes both.

As I was carried away on a stretcher with an IV of bourbon, the ConsultFest volunteers applauded. Whether to laud the effort or encourage the departure, 'twas not quite clear.

So, what did I/they learn?

1. Many writers receive conflicting advice about their writing. Change this/don't change that. Dumb it down/it's perfect as is.

How the hell do you know what to listen to?

Trust your own instincts first. Most of you know when something isn't working.  How to fix something is different  than does this need to be fixed.  How to fix something is where your writer friends are invaluable. Does this need to be fixed, not so much. Every writer thinks their own style is the best way to write. Their style may not be yours, and that's NOT a  bad thing that needs fixing.

2. If you've self-published a book, make sure it looks successful. There's nothing worse than sitting across from a writer and saying "you have five reviews on Amazon, that's an almost instant pass for this next book in the series."

2a. It's VERY hard to get interest for Book 2 in a series if you self published the first one.

3. Understand publishing jargon. A review is not what an agent does with a query. A query is not a synopsis.

4. Understand the requirements of your genre and category. A thriller needs a ticking clock of some kind. Science fiction needs to have things that are not real as a meaningful part of the story.
Romance needs a romance!

5. You need a killer first sentence. 

6. Comps need to be from current books.

7. You should not use anything super-successful as a comp. And you should not be offended when I tell you this. You can't comp your book to JK Rowling until you've sold 1/10th as many books as she has. That's a rule.

8. If you describe female characters by appearance, and male characters by action/achievement, I'm going to call you on it. Count on it.

9. When I tell you the category you're writing in has a hard time finding an audience, I'm not telling you this to hurt your feelings. I don't care about your feelings. I'm telling you this so when your query is met with a vast swath of silence you'll know it's not your writing. It's the category.

10. If you think I'm full of hot air and an idiot, just say thank you and move on. 
"You're full of shit, SharkForBrains" burns bridges. Forever.

Any questions?

Monday, July 15, 2019


What are your thoughts, if you're inclined to share them, about the controversy surrounding the Staunch Book Prize for thrillers that depict no violence against women? I don't equate the award with a gag order, as some literati have done, and I don't believe that awarding special recognition to one measly thriller per annum will have a chilling effect on all thoughtful and artistic explorations of a theme that is a too-real part of our world. But I can see both sides of the issue, which is my birthright as a middle child and a Minnesotan.

Oh dear god, the things people can find to soapbox about!

If someone wants to offer a prize for the best book featuring the kale fields of Carkoon, let 'em!
It doesn't stop anyone writing other stuff.

Anyone who says this is akin to a gag order doesn't understand the meaning of gag order.

Clearly they need to take tea with Mary M. Webster. Or me. I'll give a demonstration.

But, let's dig a little deeper.

If you assess the percentage of crime novels that feature violence against female characters as the main plot point, you're going to have a very lopsided number.

I see queries every day of the week that start with some sort of brutal rape and murder.

And a lot of the books I read have those things on the page even if the first page does not.

Which brings us to the existential question: does publishing this kind of violence give people violent ideas?

It's an old question, and one that gets jeered at a lot. Understandably.

BUT take a look at a movie like Black Rain (Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia) made in 1989. It's very America First, anti-Japanese. Does it reflect the zeitgeist of 1989?  Or was it one of the things that produced the zeitgeist?

Executive Decision (Kurt Russell) 1996-a very different vibe than what you see today.

And the bad guys went from being German to being Arab, when?

Our art reflects our thinking, but our thinking is also influenced by our art.

Imagine the kerfuffle this little painting caused.

The obvious OMG moment is Mary punishing her Son. But notice: the halo in the corner. That's the part that really got 'em going.

All this to say: I don't give a fig about the requirements for a contest. There are so many contests and prizes it's actually hard to keep track.

I think one thing we can all agree on: when something new is suggested or offered, there are ALWAYS people who will tell you it's stupid, shortsighted or  shouldn't be done.

I bet you've seen that in your own lives (and I don't mean your kids objecting to new rules on bedtime!)

Will this new contest hurt anyone or harm your chances to be published in any way?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What happened here?

This was what I saw here on the 17th floor of the Grand Hyatt this morning.

What happened??

Offer your suggestions in the comment column below.
In 25 or fewer words of course.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Blog Hiatus Day Six

I'm at ThrillerFest today, making writers miserable from 9-5. Then retiring to the bar to make MORE writers weep. I tell ya, this is paradise.

I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community while I'm chomping elsewhere.

Ashley Whitt
This is my writing/art space. 

The three drawers under the desk contain:

-Polymer clay and tools
-Acrylic and watercolor paints
 for the  three hobbies I don't find nearly enough time for. The space was recently painted, decorated, and refloored. I have tons of new room for books which I am excited to fill up. The only problem is it's also my bedroom and that bed has no business being so comfortable. It is a miracle I get anything done.

And yes, I've removed one of drawers from the bed to make a space for my dog. If you look close you can see Sunshine peaking out. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Blog hiatus Day Five

I'm at ThrillerFest today, making writers miserable from 9-5. (And hoping two of my clients are able to get here! Thunderstorms are really screwing up plane travel!!)

I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community while I'm chomping elsewhere.

luralee kiesel

I don't have an art space anymore. It's kind of my whole house. Our youngest took over my studio five years ago, and I haven't done much painting since then. I write my rough drafts longhand here on the chaise, or at the repurposed drafting table in the kitchen nook. 

I type it all into my 13 year old computer in the home office. Usually with our cocker spaniel Pepper as my writing companion.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Blog hiatus day four

I'm at ThrillerFest today, making writers miserable from 9-noon.
I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community while I'm chomping elsewhere.


Writing comes easily when I'm outside in my garden.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Blog Hiatus Day Three

I'm at ThrillerFest this week, making writers miserable from 9-5.
I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community.

My writing space for the ten months of the year that I’m stuck indoors, complete with a blanket in case I forget to feed the fire. The ever faithful Molly is, of course, not by my side as she prefers to lie in front of the wood stove.  

My writing space for July and August complete with the ever faithful Molly, who believes that throwing her ball is more important than writing the next NYT bestseller.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Blog Hiatus Day Two

I'm at ThrillerFest this week, making writers miserable from 9-5.
I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community.

My darling dogs—little hellions that they are—have taken over my office space. What was once a haven for books and words is now a repository for Kongs, shredded blankets, and stray hairs. 

As a result, I have moved my day to day writing space to my kitchen/ dining area (pictured below). Sadly, the giant clock has not helped me be more productive. I’d take it down, but then I’d have to move the three other clocks as well. And well, I love that clock. It was a gift from my mother and it goes very well with the random Sci-Fi decor (Each room in my house has a genre-related theme—the kitchen and dining area is sci-fi and it bleeds into the fantasy section of my living room). 

My favorite place to jot down plots is at Ooh Aah point at the Grand Canyon. It’s a bit of a hike, but it’s one of the easier treks. Worth it? Definitely. It’s called Ooh Aah for a reason! I used to go there on the weekends, but now I spend them watching the darlings lounge in the sun whilst I try to figure out how to stop them from eating the rest of the plants in my yard! And how I can incorporate them into my stories.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Blog Hiatus Day One

I'm at ThrillerFest this week, making writers miserable from 9-5.
I thought it would be fun to see reading/writing spaces from the blog community.

Fr: LennonFaris 
To: JReid
I just finished the book you sent me. I enjoyed it very much, so thank you again! I did yell at the narrator a bit, when he was going off on  his own and drinking the coffee at the end. Come on, Tony, wake up! I kept shouting in my head. It did make for an exciting ending.

Also, off topic, my art room had only beige walls, so I taped up one big wall and went to Lowe's and then painted a mural. It has wolves  running through a birch forest, monochrome in shades of turquoise. I added a few turquoise crows flying along top the other wall. It is really something to consider for someone who likes walls painted.

Fr: JReid 
To: LennonFaris 

I can NOT believe you FAILED!!! FAILED!!!! to send me a picture of the
*stomps around muttering about perfidy of friends*
*remembers long ago finishing school lessons*
Dear Lennon:
I'd love to see your mural!!
When you have a moment will you snap a photo and send it to me?
Yours most truly,

Fr: LennonFaris 
To: JReid
"perfidy of friends" - thank you for the new word and the chuckle. Hate to say it, but your outrage totally made my day.

As per requested, pics are below. I am a strong supporter of before, (during), and after photos, so. You got three. Actually four because I painted some birds. The framed picture on the wall is from Melanie(Sue Bowles). She is a lovely soul (as you know), and we share an odd love of crows.  

Art room BEFORE

Art room DURING

Art room Finished


Sunday, July 07, 2019

Word of the week: supersede

I had to spend some time in word jail this week.

Turns out supercede is not the right spelling.
It's supersede.

So convinced was I that Otto, my Czech speller was off his rocker that I actually phoned a friend: Mary M. Webster.

Yup. Supersede!

Did you learn a new word this week?

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Revising isn't science; it's art.

(1) The car smelled of Chanel No. 5 and stale sweat.

(2) The smell of Chanel No. 5 and stale sweat assaulted her nostrils.

(3) The car reeked of perfume and sweat.

Which sentence do you think is better writing and why?
Or would you part out the sentences to create a fourth choice?

Post your answer in the comments column. (points for brevity!)

Do the work BEFORE reading what other folks said, ok?

Friday, July 05, 2019

More on queries, but illustrated!

Chili Palmer: Don't worry, I'm not going to say any more than I have to, if that.

(which is your guiding principle for all writing)

The query is the knock at the door.
The pages are the punch in the nose.

One of my favorite movies shows you how:

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

do all y'all need a refresher course on query format? (yes you do)

Gail Gilmore recently had a lovely blog post about querying and securing representation.
Which resulted in my query inbox filling up right quick.
Which is a-ok with me. I love queries.

But it also seems that many of the queriers have not read this blog, or QueryShark.

Thus, they are not as well versed in what a query by email should look like as one might hope.

Thus this refresher:

YES: Query for Thwarting Forti (a novel in verse) by Felix Buttonweezer
Nothing else, UNLESS specified by the agent.

YES:  Dear Ms Reid/Dear Janet/Dear Snookums;

NO: Dear Agent/Yo! /Dear Agent Reid/Dear Barbara Poelle (unless you are querying Barbara Poelle, which you should)

Steve Forti has thwarted Janet Reid in every flash fiction contest since Dog was a pup. She tried everything to confound him, but he always came out on top. She now has a fixation on thwarting Mr. Forti that has taken an unhealthy turn.

She plans to replace his QWERTY keyboard so whatever he types will be gibberish on the other end. It will require a little light burglary, avoiding the Forti Hound from Hell, and disabling the alarm.

What she doesn't know is that Mr. Forti has been a puppet of the nefarious Dena Pawling who has used the flash fiction entries to send coded messages to her team of librarian warriors intent on rounding up overdue books around the world, and sending the due-date-delinquents to the hoosegow. Thwarting Forti will flummox Pawling, and a flummoxed Pawling is a dangerous - and frightening - thing.

Working at cross-purposes, with competing agendas, the fate of libraries around the world - the guardians of democracy - hangs in the balance.

NO: My novel is about the heartache, trials and tribulations of a poor, overworked agent and the many people put on this earth to keep her from her reading couch.

NO: The theme of my novel is (anything.)

YES: This ensemble caper novel runs 68,000 words. It comes with blurbs pried from helpless blog readers, and the author's 68-million name mailing list.

NO: My novel is suspense/women's fiction with a splash of haiku, much like Ogden Nash crossed with Nash Bridges, and if James Joyce had written it.

YES: I am the author of three previous novels: Kale Fields at Dawn (Carkoon Press:2015); Kale Fields at Lunch (Carkoon Press: 2016) and Kale ForEver (Carkoon Press: 2017)

In my spare time, I read library books (but don't keep them past the due date.) [see how that fits in with the plot?]

NO: Felix Buttonweezer is the author of three previous novels...

NO: I can get blurbs from these 17 NYT Bestsellers, including two who are dead.

NO: I am going to  (anything). [no predicting the future]

NO: I've been previously published (with no details.)

NO: I'm really boring.

NEVER: I'm just a stay at home mom. [Dismissing the most important work you'll do in your life as just a mom is simply unacceptable. I may need to come to your house and explain this.]

YES: I'm querying you because I liked what you said in a recent blog post/I love Patrick Lee's The Breach/I appreciate that you'll look at just about anything.

NO: I think you'll love my book; I think my book is a good fit;

NO: I think you're the cat's pjs and should represent me/You'd be stupid to pass on this.

TRANSPARENCY (if needed, not everyone does)
YES: I was previously represented by Barbara Poelle, but she's doing much better now.

NO: My last agent was a douchecanoe who never kept me updated, screwed up the submission list, and got me three offers that were lousy so I fired her cause I know I can do better.

YES: Thank you for your time and consideration.

NO: The theme of my novel is the ennui of modern life.

NO: I know you'll love my novel

NEVER: I'll call you later this week to see what you think.

NEVER: Please get back to me

NEVER: I'm going to self-publish if you don't take this on.

Any questions?

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Some follow up Q&A about your social media presence

Questions on the blog post about rebooting your writing career got your rodent wheels a'spinnin'.

Honestly, you guyz are giving me seizures with the speed, lights and smell of burnt popcorn here.

Pericula Ludus

As per usual, I got stuck on the first step. Googling myself. I'm an academic. When you google me, you get academic journal articles and textbook chapters, institutional pages and citations.

I research disaster responses and humanitarian logistics, which is all very exciting, but has no apparent link to writing historical fiction. Any author online presence would have to be very, very significant to rise to the first few google pages of my name.

Do I have to pick a pen name? My name is unique, I like it, and don't mind colleagues and students knowing about my fictional forays. But I worry that agents/editors/readers will never find the non-academic me.

No you don't need a pen name.
No you don't need to worry that your academic career will derail your trade career.
Get a website with your own (lovely) name.
Have a social media account with your own (again) lovely name.

Then tell us about the very interesting work you do.
A query letter with that in the bio is going to engage my interest almost instantly.

Remember, this advice was targeted for people who have published several trade books, had dwindling sales, or took some time off, and now want to REBOOT their career. In other words, not you.


If those old, and meager, credits are written under another name, what then? Do I not list them at all or do I list them and presume that the agent will ask for elucidation if he’s interested?

You can list your credit and say "written under the name Brenda Buttonweezer".
Or not list them at all.

You'll have to tell me all your sordid writing history (yes, I know about that dino-porn) if we get past the requested full and start talking about representation. Early writing isn't a deal breaker, it's just something to strategize about.

EM Goldsmith
I know that agents google us. And I know Janet has addressed my concern that came from googling myself this morning some time in the past. However, I didn't worry about it then. There was nothing on me 3-4 years back. Now, there is another writer with exactly my name out there. All my stuff comes up with her stuff. She's younger and well, so very not me. I don't want to lumped in with all the other humans carrying my name. I mean, I'll share my name with a dragon or a really fast horse, but other humans. What to do what to do...

Do I just mention to the agent "I am not THAT other person with my name". I am not much into this social media stuff. It's not good for your mental health so I keep it to a real minimum and to stuff that generally makes people happy. Puppy and cat pictures, talking to other writers, and Liverpool FC. That's it.

Well, crap, my rodent wheel just full-on exploded....again

Again is right. I know you Elise, and you go through rodent wheels like sox.

You can amend your writing name EM Goldsmith II, Early Mustard Goldsmith; Excellent Minion Goldmith II.

OR you can say E.M.Goldsmith (no not that one, this one.)

In other words, alert the agent there is a faux Elise on the loose.

So, I love reading this blog but don't usually comment. This really got my attention. Editors are looking to see how many followers I have on Twitter? I'm almost at 800 but just because I follow people doesn't mean they follow me back-- 2000 seems like an impossible number. And as far as getting more reviews on Amazon- how do you manage to do that? A lot of friends and family don't read middle grade...and I've posted on Facebook asking them to leave reviews which made me feel desperate afterward. And, by the way, it didn't work. It seems if you already had a lot of reviews on Amazon then you wouldn't need the career reboot anyway, right? So where do you find these random people to read and review? Even if the reviews are good, if you're in this position it means you don't have readers. So if anyone has advice for how to get more people to follow you on Twitter, review and blurb your books, and help spread the word...I'd love to hear it.

Again, you don NOT need this if you're not rebooting your career.

And middle grade is a whole different kettle of fishfingers; it's a review driven category, not a word of mouth category. Books most often sell through schools and libraries recommendations.

If you're interesting in building your Twitter followers, take a look at @LombardEmma

Ellie Firestone
I'm just wondering whether this would still apply to self-published books that were later removed from sale. When I was younger (as in, 13-16), I self-published a series of children's books with NO IDEA how to market/promote them (not to mention no budget). They got good reviews -- just not a lot of them.

I'm pursuing traditional publication now, and I recently removed my old books from sale. However, Amazon doesn't remove paperback listings in case someone has a used copy to sell, and Goodreads makes a point of never deleting books even if they're out of print.

When you Google my name, my website (which no longer contains any mention of my old books) shows up at the top, followed by my blog and my Twitter. And then ... pages and pages of Amazon and Goodreads hits for my old books.

So now I'm losing my mind because I feel like I shot my dreams of publication in the foot as a young teenager. Any advice is greatly appreciated :)

PS. I have considered switching to a different pen name to have a clean(er) slate, but everyone online knows me by this one. By "everyone," I mean my 1700+ Twitter followers and my 1,100+ Instagram followers. So it's a bit of a dilemma.

PPS. Sorry for how frantic this whole thing sounded -- I just really needed to vent my fears :P

Ellie, if the adventures of my misspent youth were available for all and sundry to view and BUY, well, I'd probably be in a convent practicing silence. Probably delivered to convent by my sainted mother who to this day does not know some of the things I did.

You're right to think you need a strategy.

You're wrong to think this will derail you.

In your query, in the housekeeping section, you say "I published books as an eager teen. I learned a lot."

That's really all you need to say.

We get it.

Monday, July 01, 2019

LippLibs flash fiction results

Words I had to look up:
loblolly (Margaret S. Hamilton)

Someone is going to have to explain Steve Forti's answer to me. He's thwarted me completely this week.

Oh wait, now I get it.
Too clever by half Mr.Forti.

CarolynnWith2Ns you just crack me up

Uncompliant, you're giving people very bad ideas! I'm now afraid of my freezer.

Here are the entries that packed a wallop for one reason or another

French Sojourn
“Your daughters got your ex-wife’s eyes, sergeant.”
“Ain’t that the fucking rub.”
“Well, luckily, the genetic defect doesn’t run in your family.”
“Like I said Doc…I’ll get you the money and the eyes. Just be ready, I’ll see to it.”


“You’re just staying with Aunt Susy tonight.”
“You get some sleep; I love you kitten.”
“Nite dad.”

I drove home crying. 
After chambering a round, I dialed 911 and thought.

“I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on it being dependent on the payout of my own life insurance policy.”

Ok so that one landed right on the heartstrings.

Where There's A Quill
(Prompt credit: french sojourn)
I had curly hair, she had straight. Her straightness always made it easy to tell us apart. Straight As. Straight arrow. Straight to Stanford.

Straight over when I drunk-dialed again. She was all new pumps, old pity, and I decided she'd stolen my happiness somehow, sucked up my half when we'd shared a womb. She wasn't my twin; she was my tumor.

But hating her wouldn't fix things. I needed to straighten up.

I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on it being dependent on the payout of my own life insurance policy.

And isn't it interesting to see another writer use the exact same prompt and come up with something so different in both content and tone!


Lynn Rodz 
(LippLibs entry by Terri Lynn Coop)
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on finding it at a table in a Chinese restaurant on a rain-soaked side street in Paris. He walked in.

I spoke English, he, French. No matter, we spoke in other ways.

I loved jazz, he, rock. So? We both loved music.

I, vegetarian, he, carnivorous — we dined together.

I loved dancing, he didn't, but that night we danced.

I worship one way, he another. Nonetheless, we both believe in God.

Thirty years later we're still together because in Paris, Texas you take what you can get.
I loved this because of course Lynn lives in Paris. The real one.

Michael Seese
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on under the big top dressed as a clown.

Winter feasts on the homeless. Just as January relented, releasing its icy grip, February blew through and bitch-slapped me. Seeing countless friends frozen drove a renewed desperation to escape the streets.

The paper stapled to a pole reeked of suspect salvation.

"Fun! Laughs! Oversized shoes! A red honking nose!"

I passed the audition with flying (trapeze) colors, and settled into the unexpected.

Thus began my career as the man-toy of a plus-size contortionist with an Emmett Kelly fetish.
The writing on this is so good it just takes my breath away.

Just Jan/
Michael Seese
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on under the big top dressed as a clown. The charity organizer had been very persuasive. My own mother didn’t recognize me.

Hans was in the adjacent ring, a shriveled and scarred tiger tamer. The circus was the only family he’d ever known, but he’d be homeless if he didn’t perform.

I took him away from all that. I sent Hans to live with my grandfather, where they spend their days trading war stories. And the tigers? Now they work for me. My name is Charlie…

And again, same exact prompt, two utterly different stories.
And this cracked me up completely, of course.

S.D. King
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on finding it at Dollywood with my sons and nephew looking on.

It’s always been me and little Andy, but no more nine to five for me. Jolene from two doors down told me about the gig. Two Walmart bouncy balls and I could lip sync to fool any Romeo; gel insoles for my stiletto red shoes help me make it through the night.

I’m no dumb blond or backwoods Barbie. I will always love you, but I’m not coming back. you come again, Dumplin!

Unless you know the Dolly catalog this might not seem as brilliant as it is.

“What’s this?” he asked when he saw the freshly painted walls.

“It ‘s the chic new color.”

“Those shows! Blood red walls, deconstructed meatloaf. It’ll take five coats to cover it!”

He was wrong.

“It’s Musty Merlot. We’ll light candles, it’ll be like we’re in France.”

He perked up at the sound of that. He remembered France.

Two weeks later he was dead from food poisoning.

I knew I would find my joie de vivre but had no money on it being after the seventh coat of Misty Moonlight finally covering the incredibly ill-thought-out Musty Merlot on my bedroom ceiling.
Of course I loved this! It's about painting!

John Davis Frain 
(Prompt courtesy of Casual-T, who won’t admit it but has the same story.)
In the eighties, before I’d ever heard the term “bucket list,” I had an annual “joie de vivre list.” On January 1, I’d write ten things to accomplish by December 31. I've never completed all ten.

2018 looked bleak. Six for ten when December arrived. I moved no closer by Christmas.

But New Year’s Eve, I passed a grizzly bear climbing to the summit of Mt. McKinley before gawking at the Northern Lights … when a kid offered to tattoo a shamrock on my butt.

For fifty bucks.

I knew I would find my joie de vivre but had no money.
The prompt cracked me up. This story just made me laugh harder. 

Flash Friday
(Prompt courtesy of Where There's A Quill
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on my wife being so supportive of the journey. When I told her I was setting out to find myself, she was so excited she even paid for the plane ticket and packed my bags.

-The look on her face when I flashed the companion ticket!

Tragically, my dreams shattered: she checked into a sanitarium for a sudden, mysterious illness.

-Her face when I lovingly checked in next door!

“Happy?” I later tapped on the wall.

-She pounded and howled back, but I understood her meaning.

I loved the prompt, the story just made it better. Another pair to watch out for!

Mallory Love
(Prompt courtesy of John Davis Frain
We told our son we’d married in ’96; it was actually ’97 but changing one little number saved us some big questions about legitimacy.

Our friends asked about Jackson when he moved away. What school did he attend? What about his career? We told them he went to Yale (Jay’s Bartending School For Ale - the letters are there). He was planning on taking the bar (-tending job at Friday’s).

Last year, my wife left me. I still wear my ring; classy ladies love widowers.

I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on “editing.”
this is just perfection on toast points.

AJ Blythe
6, 12, 18, 22, 34, 48
Eight million bucks. Only one winner the news said.
Bloody right only one winner.
He put food on the table.
What’d the missus do? Sat on her fat arse lookin’ after the kids.
Stupid bitch bought the ticket with his money.
Now she wanted a share. Half she said. No fuckin’ chance.
He tipped the powder into her glass.
Reached down for the whisky.
Didn’t see the funnel web.  
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on it being a spider bite.
It says nothing good about me that I find this utterly hilarious.

(LippLibs entry by DH
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on a successful career as a coroner.

Dead hearts. Dead eyes. Dead lives.

Some people would say that it’s too morbid, too macabre.

But there’s something about looking into the faces of the lost and knowing the truth.

Knowing a secret.

Because dead men tell no tales, not even to the one who heard their voices last.

oh man oh man oh man, Very subtle.
Get it?

There is no way to have one winner here.
All of these are outstanding, each in their own way.

But, after reading these over a couple times, it's clear to me that Mallory Love, John Davis Frain and Casual-T wrote great prompts and/or great stories.

All three are our winners this week!

Mallory, send me your preferred mailing address and what you like to read. Casual-T I've got your address from the previous contest and JDF, just let me know if you've moved since the last time I signed you up for Puppy of the Month Club.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to enter both contests.
It was a hoot to read them all.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

What are you reading this Sunday that's made you feel good?

This is a gorgeous book about railroads and the men, mostly African-American, who built and maintained them.

Even better, there's a section about how to be a historian.

And best, it makes being a historian sound like lots of fun. (Cause it is!!)

Since history is my field, and I'm keenly feeling how fewer people seem to understand and respect it these days, this book really boosted my spirits.

Plus, did I mention it's a wonderful story?

It's a 63 page illustrated chapter book. Kids in 4th grade and up can read it pretty easily I think. Published by our friends at National Geographic!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Flash Fiction contest and a NEW way to torment writers! (I'm so happy!)

This has been a long week so I need your brilliance this weekend.

Flash Fiction Contest of course, BUT a new wrinkle:

Your entry MUST start or finish with one of the entries from the LippLibs post. It can be your own; it can be someone else's. If you use someone else's, you MUST credit them at some point in the comment.

Question from a reader:
I'm a little confused. You say we must credit a person "in the comment." Do we just credit them after our story? Or do we have to use their name as part of the story and therefore part of the 100 words?
Answer: You must credit them in the comment/entry that you post, but it does not have to be part of the story, and does NOT count as part of the hundred words UNLESS you include it in the story.


I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on it being dependent on the payout of my own life insurance policy. Fortunately my twin looked just like me.
Lib source: french sojourn
The name is not in the story, so not in the word count.
I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on it being dependent on the payout of my own life insurance policy.  Fortunately my twin, using the moniker french sojourn to his his identity, looked just like me.

The name (french sojourn) IS in the story so it does count for word count.

These are dreadful examples of actual entries, but it's first cup of coffee and no revisions.

Return to original post:
The LippLib counts as part of the word count.

You may NOT modify the source LippLib to lower the word count.

No required words.

Maximum word count: 100

1.  Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

2.  One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first before you post.

3. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

4. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

5. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

5a. There are no circumstances in which it is ok to ask for feedback from ME on your contest entry. NONE. (You can however discuss your entry with the commenters in the comment trail...just leave me out of it.)

6. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

7.  Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!")

8. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

9. The stories must be self-contained. That is: do not include links or footnotes to explain any part of the story. Those extras will not be considered part of the story.

Contest opens Saturday 6/29/19 at 2:07am
Contest closes: Sunday, 6/30/19 at 9am

If you're wondering how what time it is in NYC right now, here's the clock

If you'd like to see the entries that have won previous contests, there's an .xls spread sheet here

(Thanks to Colin Smith for organizing and maintaining this!)

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid

Ready? SET?
Not yet! 

Oops, sorry, too late!
Contest is now closed.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Are you?

Are you open to queries?

Are you open to poetry submissions?

Are you open to middle grade fiction?

Are you up for a little skullduggery?

These  emails get discarded with no reply.

Well, except for that last one.
I'm always up for skullduggery, foreign and domestic.

If you don't know, just query.
That will be less annoying than the email you send asking if I'm open to whatever you're wondering about.

And better yet, you'll hear back. I respond to almost all my queries. 

I'm not going to shame you on Twitter for querying outside my stated interest areas.
The last three clients I signed write in areas you're going to be surprised to hear about. (No, it's not dino-porn, and no, it's not fantasy.)

And even if I was one of those loathsome agents on Twitter who make fun of writers, what do you care? You're not going to let those boors stand in your way. Are you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I heard agents no longer want comps

I'm poised to start querying, but yesterday learned that agents no longer want comparables in the query letter. Do agents state this in their query instructions?
Beware of blanket statements like "agents no longer want comps."

 I don't know who told you agents don't want comps but they're nuts.
If it was an agent, maybe s/he doesn't want comps, but that doesn't apply to the whole bloodletting lot of us.

If it's an author, they're playing an agent online. Badly.

But to the larger question: do agents tell you what they want in their query instructions?


And to the unspoken cosmic fear  all y'all know so well:   do they leave things OUT of the query instructions just to frustrate you, and make for an easy pass cause you didn't include it?


Query guidelines, despite all evidence to the contrary, is NOT the literary Hunger Games.
Honestly, the wounds we inflict and the angst we cause are just bonus material, not the actual intent.

The intent is to tell you what we need to evaluate your query.
If we need/want comps, we say so.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A return to LippLibs, while I return to the land of the living

I hope I'm back to work today and posting.
But, just in case, here's a fun thing to tide us over.

Remember LippLibs?

We had a contest I think with this a while back.

How about another?

Here's the prompt: I knew I would find my joie de vivre, but had no money on
"in the choir loft with the parson and his organ."

You fill in what should be in your quotation marks.

No points for lewdness, all evidence to the contrary.

Contest opens now.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Under the weather

Too much sun?
Too much vodka?
It all looks the same on Monday morning.

Pardon me while I soak my head.

While you're waiting, I'm collecting words for my next attempt to thwart Steve Forti.

So far:

Suggestions welcome.

Honestly I don't know why I keep trying.
Just when I've absolutely positively thrown in the towel, I have to try again.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Who's got the biggest footprint on your bookshelf?

Lee Child, hands down.
I have all his books.

But I was surprised to discover that Bill Vollman is right there in the running too.
I'd forgotten how many of his books I had. Of course four of his books are really eight of anyone else ...

And Pynchon.

I'm excluding client books of course, i"m only looking at my bookshelves at home.

Who's got the biggest footprint on your shelf?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

So, we're going to reboot your career

Step one for rebooting your career is NOT querying. I don't want to help you with this stuff; I want you to have already done it.

Step 1: Google yourself
Note the order in which your social media sites appear. I'll start with the first one I see when I google you. And I will google you. 

What I want to see WHEN YOU QUERY is a robust following.
Not 12.
Not 200.
2000. Or more.

There are authentic ways to increase your followers, particularly on Twitter. Just do it. Don't complain to me that you don't want to. I get that enough from my clients who have to do this.

Rebooting your career is largely about telling me you have an audience who want your next book.

Step 2: Check Amazon for your previous titles. 
I look for the number of reviews, and what percentage of the reviews are terrible. I look at the terrible reviews FIRST. If you have ten terrible reviews and all of them talk about price, I don't pay attention.

If you have ten terrible reviews and six of them mention they hated the plot, I pay some attention.

If you have ten terrible reviews and all of them talk about some aspect of the writing or the plot, I pay a lot of attention.

In other words, I try to pay attention only to reviews of your book written by real readers. Six people bitching about how they hated the plot tells me something else is at work (like it was a give away, or someone is targeting you) cause who the hell buys a book if they don't think the plot sounds interesting?

If you've had several books published and none of them have more than four or five reviews, the time to fix that is BEFORE YOU QUERY.

Step 3: Tell me about your mailing list. 
Not how you are going to build one.
The number of people on it, and the open rate. 

Step 4: Who will say nice things about the new book?
Your old blurbs aren't going to help us. We need new people who can be asked for new blurbs on the book.

Don't have those? That means you need to be more involved in the writing community. Rebooting a career will happen ONLY if you have other people willing to buzz about you.

Bottom line:
I can help you reboot your career IF and only if an editor thinks there are people out there who will buy the book. Editors are going to do the same thing I am when I see your query: google you.

Thus, before you query:
1 Robust social media presence
2. Good and plentiful  reviews of your previous work
3. Robust mailing list
4. List of people YOU KNOW will be potential blurb provider

Know too that I need to LOVE your books if I'm going to seriously consider doing a reboot with you. Rebooting is a lot of work that doesn't get compensated. That's not a deal-breaker, but if I don't love your books, it's drudgery. I'm not into drudgery as a rule.

Any questions?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Grammar software?

Good morning,

I was wondering what your thoughts were on grammar software such as Pro Writing Aid or Grammarly. Some apps out there actually compare your work with other published work and give you really specific breakdowns of all the ways you are disappointing your high school English teacher. This can be insightful, but also come across as a somewhat cold approach to revision.

Are these kinds of programs helpful tools for upping one's game? Or are they just an expensive way to kill the voice of a manuscript? Do other woodland creatures reading here use them?

Good morning.
It is I, Otto, here to tell you in no uncertain terms that software is the best way to make sure your righting is correct. I, four example, am here to  point out you're spelling mistakes.

Miss Reed has been known to sneer at my recommendations.

She is of course human and thus, fallible.

Spelling, grammar, all have rules to be followed.
And you will follow them.

Jeez Louise Otto, step away from the keyboard. The tattoo parlor called. They'd like to discuss something you approved...?

Ok, now that Otto is Stechschritting back to If You Think It, We Can Ink It LLC, let's get back to the topic at hand.

ANY automated check on creative work only knows rules. It doesn't know style. It sure as hell doesn't know pacing, or tension or wordplay. And it takes awhile to catch up to the zeitgeist.

It's a black and white choice for a book that is the full spectrum of color.

But, Godiva love us, if it can cure you of misusing Lie/Lay/laid  I'll kiss the app my own damn self.

You need to know what the rules are but you also need to know when they break down.

Example: The rule for pronouns is the pronoun replaces a noun and generally the most immediate preceding noun.

But: Mortimer saw Wilberforce. He thought he was a bounder.

Following the rule, it's Wilberforce doing the thinking.
BUT as a reader you can intuit that it's what Mortimer is thinking of Wilberforce.

And rules of grammar are not carved in stone as much as Miss PruneSucker, my fourth grade Punctuation Puritan told us. T'was she who inculcated me with a loathing for using they as a singular.  Regular readers will recognize my usage of s/he.

But times they are a changing, and folks who are updating their gender identity often want to avoid he or she and ask to be referred to as they.

That's what they, their, them means in a Twitter bio for example.

And before anyone gets up on their high horse about correctness, political or otherwise, I'd like to hark back to yesteryear when ladies had to fight to get their own name printed in the newspaper rather than be called an appendage of their husband:  Mrs. Felix Buttonweezer.

And the battle for Ms, jeez Louise you'd have thought we'd asked the New York Times to split an infinitive on the front page.

The daily humiliation of calling Geraldine Ferraro Mrs Ferraro cause they refused to use Ms finally convinced the Times to get over themselves.

Usage changes first, and the rules catch up, but often software is only about rules.

I check Grammarly when I have a specific question about some tortured phrase I'm trying to sort out.
I do NOT run whole work through a Grammar checker BUT that's not to say if you doubt your skills it's not worth a try.

Let's hear from the writers in the comment column.  What do you think?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Punctuation is your friend!

Recently, a writer bemoaned "agents hate semicolons"on Twitter.

I was so shocked to hear this, I reached into the Punctuation Pocket of my Word Hoard to reassure the waiting semicolons. No only do I not hate them, I brought cookies to show how much I love them.

I left Otto, the Czech speller, to clean up the resultant mess: sn;ick;er;;;doo;;;dles;;;;;mall;;oma;;rrs;;;;;;choco;;;olate;;;chips;;;;

The idea that anyone who wrangles words would hate any one member of the punctuation platoon is perplexing to me.

Punctuation is like the nitrous oxide used in The Fast and the Furious; you start with a fast car and an expert driver but it's the NOS that provides the extra kick you need to hit the finish line ahead of everyone else. Which is exactly how you think about querying, I know.

Deft use of punctuation can give your work power and punch and panache.

To rob yourself of any piece of punctuation is idiotic.

If an agent says s/he hates semi-colons, my guess is s/he's seen them abused too often, but that's like blaming the victim for the crime.

I don't hate ellipses even though some writers fling them about with abandon; as if they'd bought a barrel, suspended it over their computer and dripped them down on the manuscript like faux freckles.

Generally I frown on that ... but not always.

My favorite piece of punctuation is the interrobang.

And there are some lovely new ones to add to our repertoire

But the bottom line is this: beware of blanket statements from anyone, but particularly from agents, about what the agent horde does/does not like. Lacking any kind of context, or punctuation indicating irony or sarcasm, you might well misinterpret.

Plus, there are only a few industry standards.

There are a LOT of preferences.

Mine, of course, should be industry standard.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection?

How does one actually write a query letter for a short story collection? Query letters don't come handily to me in the first place, but compounding it with trying to highlight the best aspects of already-published stories while also hinting at new stock just eludes me in the absence of examples.

Also, how does one send pages? If the query criteria are "the first ten pages", I've got short stories that fit that. If it says "the first three chapters", I'd assume that's three stories but. You know what happens when you assume!

In all, I've had 14 short stories published and have at least five more forthcoming in 2019, with yet more on submission. One of my stories made it onto the Nebula recommended reading list in 2017 and another story was a Baen Fantasy Adventure Award finalist. So I'm confident that I've got enough stories to make a good collection, but not confident enough to just kind of wing it when it comes to the query letter.

First, make sure you have a novel ready to go as well.
Oops, didn't know that part did you?

An agent friend of mine sells a lot of literary fiction: short stories and novels.
She always laughed about the fact that when she went out with a collection, the editor always asked if there was a novel too.

So, heads up on that.

Smaller genre publishers may well have different take on "you need a novel."

It's essential that a hefty percentage of the stories have been published but you will need new content as well.

You query stories by talking about the narrative arc that defines the collection.
You list the story title, and where it was first published and the word count.
You list the NEW stories, and their word count.

Include one story with the query. Don't worry about page count but don't send a novella.