Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A to Z Challenge, 2016

We accept.

Unicorn Bell is a blog of writers for writers. We began like strangers in a strange land, wandering in the darkness. Not one of us was a published.

But we wanted to be.

We persevered. And journeyed down the road of learning until we found our place in this crowded field of wannabes and newbies and named ourselves Writers.

The land of Published is not the end of the journey though. It is merely a stop along the road, a place to catch our breath before truckin’ on. This month we’re doing something different.

April is the month crazy people get together and post every day—except Sunday—26 days of the alphabet. We begin on Friday and hope our stamina holds up.

  • Chrys is posting odd and unusual words. 
  • Marcy has writing on her mind and will let us in on her thoughts.
  • Kristin is posting about writing too. Gee, I wonder why.
  • Lidy, our newest moderator, is our poet. Can’t wait for limericks. *G*
  • I—the one and only Huntress—am going with Guess the Movie. So glad I have the letter I for my favorite movie.
  • Angela is our editor so who knows what deviltry she’ll get up to
  • What Ifs is Liz's forte (say that three times quick)

Charity be like:

Join us. Check out our response to the Challenge.

And remember, survival is the key.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Back up. Seriously, Back up Everything.

It’s all about security today and who is looking over your shoulder.

After I made the colossal mistake of upgrading my six-month-old computer from Windows 7 to 10, I discovered just how much I appreciated my files.

I’m not a conspiracy person. I don’t look at contrails made by jets and see mutant strains of DNA populating the atmosphere. But by golly, my adventure into Win 10 made me a believer in Spies R Us—meaning companies checking out your history and algorithms and such.

To see my journey down the road to Holy Moses, Batman, see my blog here. 

Before I took the bait and upgraded to Win 10, I had no idea Microsoft was so intrusive. Now I realize that automatic updates are the devil’s spawn. I check the recommended updates manually once a week for anything labeled “Security”. An Important or Optional update always rates another look and research.

One of the updates, KB3035583 is labeled important. Lookee here what it actually is, a way for Win 10 to worm its way back into my ‘puter.


I’ve discovered how essential it is to make restore points. And backing up. Redundant backups.

I have a marvelous external drive for backups, a 2 terabyte
Seagate. And since I am naturally an obsessive compulsive, I use Cloud technology as a backup for the backups I backup. Several in fact. 

Examples: Amazon Cloud Drive, ICloud, and Google Cloud. And probably a few more I set up and can’t remember.

Carbonite is an okay program for backing up, but it drained my computer’s functions. Uploading slowed my computer to a sick turtle. I gave up on them.

Although I eschew letting something else decide, in this case setting up a program to backup automatically gives a bit of solace. 

Virus and Internet Security. Since there are so many programs and an equal number of loyal customers for each, I won’t try to tell you which ones are good or bad. 

I use Symantec’s Norton Internet Security. It provides the stuff I need to protect my ‘puter and does the when, where, and how much backups to the Seagate. I set it up and let it do the work. Easy Peasy.

Since the Windows 10 fiasco, I’ve been less trusting and more inquisitive regarding how my system should work. I hope I’ve learned enough to avoid such missteps in the future.

How do you like your internet security? Got a backup system in place? Or two? Or three?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Dear Mad Writer

Dear Mad Writer,

This week I’ve talked about how working with beta readers, submitting to agents, and getting reviews can cause writers to be lazy or scared. Well, this can also breed anger. We’ve all heard about authors getting into fights with reviewers and publicly displaying it for others to see. Every time this has happened, the author has received a lot of backlash. Don’t make their mistake.

Anger #1 – Mean Critiques

Receiving a rude critique can bring shock, hurt feelings, tears and anger. When you reach anger, remember to bite your tongue. No matter how much you want to snap back, DON’T! You’ll only paint yourself as a childish, thin-skinned yuppie. Or worse.

I remember when a beta reader called one of my heroines a “psychotic narcissistic bitch.” And she didn’t stop there. She also called her rude, self-absorbed, and a menace. I was stunned speechless. When I did reply back I said, “Ouch. No one’s said that about her before.” And that’s all I said about that.

Even if what a beta reader says stings, don’t get defensive. Thank him/her for their suggestions even if you don’t mean it, and scratch their name off your future beta readers list. You won’t ever have to use him/her again.

Anger #2 – Rejection

If you shouldn’t send a nasty reply to beta readers or critique partners then you definitely don’t do it to agents. No matter how much you hoped a particular agent would want your book, don’t reply back to say they made a mistake and would regret it. As a matter of fact, they’ll probably be glad they didn’t offer you a contract after that display. Who would want to work with an unprofessional writer?

Don’t even reply back to say, “Thanks anyway” or “Thanks for your time.” You should’ve said that at the end of your query letter. Agents are busy. Unless you’re a signed client, don’t email them after a rejection. Just let it go.

Anger #3 – Bad Reviews

Many of us have received, or at least seen, awful reviews that probably made us want to address each cruel comment. Now more than ever is the time to stay silent, because if you attack a reviewer their army will come out in force against you. They’ll paint you as a distasteful author not worthy of readers, and you will lose readers. I’ve seen it happen.

If you ignore the bad reviews, your loyal readers will come out in force instead and back up your writing/story. Anything they have to say will carry more weight than if you tried to defend yourself.


QUESTION: As a writer, what makes you angry? How do you handle it?

Author of Hurricane Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dear Scared Writer

Dear Scared Writer,

This post stems off my last post: Dear Lazy Writer because while some may not do certain things after their book is published because it’s too much work, others may just be scared. If there are certain things about publishing that scare you, but you still want to publish your book then take a deep breath and read on.

Fear #1 - Beta Readers / Critique Partners

When you’ve edited your book as much as you can by yourself it is necessary to seek help by asking talented writers for their eye. Doing this can be so nerve-wracking (I know it is) but it is a MUST. I promise that you’ll learn a lot and your book will be all the better for it.

First, only approach writers you admire and know through blogging or other writing communities. After they agree to look at your book, send it to them with your expectations (What do you want them to do? Check for grammar, look for plot holes?). And there’s nothing wrong with letting them know how nervous you are. They’ll understand. Then keep busy with another WIP or hobby until you hear back.

Before you open their email, take a deep breath and try to slow your hammering heart. Read what they have to say while keeping in mind that it’s their opinion and the things they say are suggestions. Also scroll through the document to read any comments. Seeing all the red can be discouraging but once you buckle down and focus, you’ll see many of their suggestions make sense. When you finish revising, you’ll feel more confident in your story. You just have to get over that initial fear.

Fear #2 - Querying Agents

Many writers are afraid of submitting their book for consideration. If you let this fear consume you, you’ll never realize your dream of being a published author. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. We are all rejected. It’s true. JK Rowling and C.S. Lewis received many rejections before publishing their first book, but they didn’t give up. The same is true of every best-seller.

Take the time to perfect your manuscript and query letter, research agencies, find the appropriate agent for you and read their guidelines. When you submit, remember that you don’t know them and they don’t know you. As much as they're faceless, you’re faceless. Any rejection you get is NOT personal. They are only looking for the book that they can be invested in and love even after reading it a few times.

Your book could be great but not right for that specific agent. Keep looking, keep believing, and keep submitting! Chalk up each rejection as a badge of honor. Once you get enough, you’ll move from aspiring writer to agented writer.

Fear #3 - Reviews

Reviews of our books can make us bite our nails, especially if they’re one or two stars. The same faceless rule for agents applies for reviews, as does the opinion rule for beta readers. Whatever is said by a reviewer won’t be shared by everyone. What one reader hates another may love, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of individuality.

Don’t ever let a bad review bring you down. It can be painful but it’s also selective. Read a good review you got for the same title. Better yet, hop on over to one of your favorite books by another author and read their worst reviews. See? Every author gets them.


QUESTION: What about writing and publishing scares you?

Author of Hurricane Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dear Lazy Writer

Dear Lazy Writer,

If you think working with beta readers to perfect your books is too much work; if you think submitting to agents is too much work; if you think promoting your book and approaching reviewers is too much work then DON’T PUBLISH. That may sound harsh (especially coming from me) but it’s the best, most honest advice anyone could give you.

To be a successful writer (the definition of successful depends on your personal view), you will HAVE to put in a lot of work. More work than non-writers realize. More so if you want to publish. It’s not just about writing a manuscript. It’s editing it several times before getting help by two or more beta readers. It’s pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to land an agent and nursing your rejection wounds. It’s putting in the hours to help your book shine and then letting it go. It’s finding every little way to market your book to reach readers and get reviews. It’s trying and failing but picking yourself up each and every time and trying again. (And yes, I did just start 5 sentences with “It’s.”)

If you’re not ready for all of that, if it sounds like too much work, then don’t publish. Not everyone who writes a book had to publish it, and not every book has to be published. Many people could be happy having just written a book. Could you?

But if you do want to publish, be ready to put in the effort at every single stage. You can’t just sit on your hands once the book is out there. Without your help to push it along, it’ll float in the nether, undiscovered. Don’t you want your book to soar? To find its way into the hands of readers and collect reviews, not dust? Then hard work you must do!

Not everyone will have the sort of success JK Rowling and Stephen King have, but we will have out own levels of success. Except you won’t ever reach yours if you don’t try and put in the work.

So stop being a couch potato and do your book some justice!

Request reviews.

Do a blog tour. Join social media.

Do all you can without burning yourself out.

Get read. Set. GO!

QUESTION: Are you a lazy person? What makes you lazy?

Author of Hurricane Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Blogger. Reader. Auntie. Vegetarian. Cat Lover.

Friday, March 18, 2016

How I Got My Agent: Wendy Knight

So excited to have author Wendy Knight here today to share her story of how she got her agent. Thank you, Wendy! :)


Before I got my agent, I had published thirteen novels through a small publisher and self-publishing. Monster Whisperer was something different though. It was a picture book, and I had no idea how to do that on my own. So I started querying and entering contests, not with a lot of hope, because I had queried my debut novel, Feudlings, for a year with many, many rejections before my publisher, Clean Reads, found me. But the contests were fun, and I liked to meet other authors who were in the trenches with me.

I entered the Twitter Pitmad contest, where you try to describe your book in less than 140 characters, and make it interesting enough to catch attention. Somehow, miracle of miracles, I caught Jordy’s eye, and she asked to see it. Since it’s barely 1,000 words, I sent the whole thing. And then…I waited. While I waited, I continued to query and work on other projects to save my sanity. A month later, she sent me an email asking if I was still seeking representation.

I may have squealed. A lot.

Then I wrote her back and said yes, yes I was, and I think I used a lot of exclamation points. We set up a time to chat on the phone, and then I waited some more. Unfortunately, I am TERRIFIED of the phone. My adorable husband came home from work so he could offer moral support during the call, and I paced back and forth and back and forth, like, a gazillion times through my kitchen. Honestly, I can’t remember much of what we talked about. I had researched questions to ask ahead of time, and things to think about and things to watch out for, but I didn’t remember anything.

I do remember, though, how nice she was. We had similar interests and I told her the story of Monster Whisperer, which was based on my two little ones and their fear of the monsters in the dark. She then said she had to talk to her partner about representing me, and she would send a contract. In celebration, I bought thigh-high pink boots.

So there it is. How I got my agent. And she is awesome!

Author Bio:

Wendy Knight is the award-winning, bestselling author of the young adult series Fate on Fire and Riders of Paradesos. She was born and raised in Utah by a wonderful family who spoiled her rotten because she was the baby. Now she spends her time driving her husband crazy with her many eccentricities (no water after five, terror when faced with a live phone call, no touching the knives…you get the idea). She also enjoys chasing her three adorable kids, playing tennis, watching football, reading, and hiking. Camping is also big—her family is slowly working toward a goal of seeing all the National Parks in the U.S.

You can usually find her with at least one Pepsi nearby, wearing ridiculously high heels for whatever the occasion. And if everything works out just right, she will also be writing.

Social Media Links:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How I Got My Agent: Suzanne Warr

My good friend, Suzanne Warr, is here with us today to share her inspiring agent story. I met Suzanne at a conference a year and a half ago and we've kept in touch ever since. Take it away, Suzanne!

Finding the right agent can feel like searching for a pearl on the bottom of the ocean--a pearl that's the key to an author completing their life quest, but hidden from view by a mundane oyster shell. My search began in earnest some 6-7 years, before I found my agent, Christa Heshke, of McIntosh and Otis. Initially I was subbing an urban fantasy MG, just as the industry was tapering off and those books had become a tough sell. Still, I got good practice ‘diving’ and over the three years got approximately twenty full requests, and some great revision notes and writing advice. All of the rejections were encouraging.

But, a rejection is a rejection, right? It’s hard to see that pearl slip away, after having come so close. I attempted a YA, but it didn’t sum much because even I could tell the voice sounded MG. So, hide away in my office from the writing world, and wrote a different kind of book. Something a little silly, with crossing the road jokes and ninja chickens. In winter of 2013 I'd finished the first draft, and started work on the query. When getting feedback on it, a writing friend suggested I enter my query into Writeoncon's Luck of the Irish pitch contest. I figured I had nothing to lose, so threw myself into the forum discussion that proceeded the pitch contest. Through the feedback I received I realized that two secondary characters needed to be combined into one, and my third chapter needed to become my first.

When the contest began, I eagerly looked up the agent who’d been assigned my book...and my heart sank. She was brand new with no previous agenting experience, and moreover going it alone, without an agency to back her or mentors in the industry. Still, I was grateful for what I'd learned about my novel and query, and set to work rewriting it. As an extra boost, when the pitch contest ended, my book 'won' among the dozen or so pitches it competed against, and got recognition in the forums as one of the winners of the contest. I'll always be grateful to that agent, who picked out my pitch, because she turned a spotlight on my writing.

However, she seemed lukewarm about the book itself, saying it was aimed at younger readers than she usually went for. She did offer feedback on a partial--which I scrambled to have ready for her--and I took a deep breath, knowing this was only the first of many dives.

Except it wasn’t. Another agent--my future agent, Christa--saw my pitch because of its being featured as a winner. She approached the contest organizers about getting my information, so she could request pages. Imagine my surprise when I received this email! It was the first time an agent had every sought me out, and it felt great! Unfortunately, I was still carrying through the revision I'd launched as a result of the forum feedback. As I typed up the email telling her the full manuscript wasn’t quite ready, I did it with the sinking feeling that I'd just blown my best chance. However, she was polite and said I could send it when it was ready, and two weeks later--in early April--I sent her off the full. In the past, I'd always gone down for more ‘dives’ and done my querying in batches, but in this case I decided to wait. I really liked what I'd learned about Christa, and wanted to hear what she had to say before throwing a wider net. It was a risk, but one I felt good about taking.

April rolled into May, which rolled into June. I got an email from Christa, saying she'd be getting to my manuscript soon. I mentally resigned myself to her passing, since my experience with my first manuscript had taught me that agent's enthusiasm for a manuscript ebbed the longer they had it.

Meanwhile, my family was heading out to Estes National Park, in Colorado, for a family reunion. In a trip worthy of a novel quest story, everything that could go wrong did. Our early morning flight was delayed for hours and hours. At one point, I used my phone to check my emails, thinking how cool it would be if an offer of representation came in while I twiddled my thumbs in the airport. It would make such a great story! There wasn't anything, though, and I promised myself I'd stop obsessing and focus on family time.

That was my mistake. Obsession is always the answer.

When we finally made it into Denver that evening, we'd missed our shuttle up to the park, and needed to hunt for another one, since it was long past their usual hours. When we finally dragged our weary bodies into our cabin beds aroundmidnight, we passed out, without even checking emails. The next day I kept my promise and focused on family time--which was made easier by our cell phones having no reception in most of the park. The morning after that, though, I had my hubby check my emails as I combed out my daughter's hair. I'll never forget the tone of his voice when he said "There's something here you need to see. Come look at this email."
I came, and after reading it three times finally processed what I was seeing--a request for a phone call, in order to discuss an offer of representation! At that point, I did what any sensible author would do—paced in a circle between the beds and bathroom, repeating over and over 'Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh' while I marched.

I'm a little embarrassed at how long that went on. Truth, I don’t really know, because that day and the next couple are a blur. I'm pretty sure my daughter's hair did not get combed. I did have a phone call with Christa, and found her to be just as delightful as I'd hoped. I asked her all the questions on my long list, and loved her revision notes for my book. En route back down the mountain, at the end of our stay, I signed and returned an electronic copy of the agency contract on my phone! Another moment I’ll never forget.

So, what did I learn? How can my story help you to go after your pearl-in-an-oyster, and net it when you find it?
· Each book is unique, and on its own journey. Try not to bring baggage from previous searches—instead giving each situation its own chance.
· Be ready to fix your book as soon as you recognize a need for improvement. If I hadn't jumped on the changes my forum buddies suggested, my partial might not have impressed Christa enough to request a full.
· Query widely, unless you feel you shouldn’t. I tried it both ways, and can’t say one is better than the other, but I know that the second time out, waiting for feedback from Christa was the right thing for me.
· Never give up hope. Never. The only way you’ll lose is if you keep diving. Your agent is out there!

Suzanne Warr writes middle grade fantasy and science fiction, with enough humor and adventure to keep things lively. She is a graduate of BYU with a history degree, and has a black belt. She is also a content editor for Red Adept Publishing, so she has the awesome day job of helping authors shape their novels into the books they want to become. Her favorite hobbies include sword fighting, playing at the beach, and hiking the gorgeous trails around her home in central North Carolina. She is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh and Otis. You can find her on her blog www.suzannewarr.com, where she spotlights a middle grade each week, and on Facebook under Suzanne Warr. She’s also on twitter as @zeechick, and on Instagram as warrchick.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How I Got My Agent: Stephanie Faris

It's time for another How I Got My Agent series! This week, I've lined up some great authors who were more than willing to share their story of how they got their agent. I think you'll enjoy them! For today, we have the amazingly talented Stephanie Faris with us. Take it away, Stephanie!

How I Got My Agent
by Stephanie Faris

The journey to publication is never a straight line. For many of us, there will be a few wrong turns, some dead ends, and quite a few roadblocks along the way. But as long as you get to your final destination, it’s all worth it.

I wasn’t new to writing when I first started looking for an agent, but I was new to writing for young readers. I was so excited to hear there was finally a market for books for teens, I jumped right into writing one without really studying the market. I read quite a few books and thought I knew what the industry wanted, but I was way off.

The book that landed my agent started out as a series called Ghost Patrol. It was about three teenage ghost hunters, written at the beginning of the paranormal investigation craze. I knew it had that unique something that just might get attention, so I started sending it to agents. The feedback was positive, but interesting.

“Your voice is a little too young for young adult,” one agent said. “Could you rewrite it as a middle grade?”

At the time, this was news to me. I’d grown up young adult books like Sweet Valley High, which were targeted to tween readers. I had no idea today’s young adult books were supposed to be written for 18-year-olds to read, mostly because when I started researching, I naturally gravitated toward the sweet young adult books that were out there. I read a stack of middle grade books and rewrote Ghost Patrol as a middle grade novel.

That agent rejected it, but I knew it was even stronger. I started the research process over, searching for an agent that was looking for a great middle-grade series. That was when I found Natalie Lakosil. She was actively looking for authors at the time and she was at a great agency. I sent a partial of Ghost Patrol to her and soon after, she asked for the complete manuscript.

I still remember that trip to the post office. At the time, I’d had years of experience with standing in line at the post office with my packaged-up manuscript in hand, but I remember this one specifically. I had a good feeling about it. After more than a decade of rejections, you should learn never to get your hopes up, but you can’t help wondering, “Is this it?”

The email came in unexpectedly. I actually read her second email first, the one where she’d attached the contract. I had to backtrack to the email just before, where she’d offered representation. I know you’re supposed to think on it for a while, but I’d already researched her. I knew she was the one I wanted.

I think if there’s anything to be learned from my journey, it’s that perseverance pays off. Also, the book you land an agent with may never even see the light of day and that’s okay. It was read by the most important reader of all—the agent who sold my first (and every other) book!

(Also, P.S., Natalie just put out a call for “a fun, fresh historical or sci-fi romance.” So if you have one, send, send, send!)



Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive. 




Piper helps some four-legged friends find the perfect home in the third book of the brand-new Piper Morgan series.

Piper is super excited to help out at Bark Street, a local animal shelter in town. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by adorable puppies and dogs all day? And when Piper sees Taffy, the cutest dog she has ever seen, Piper is determined to find a way to bring Taffy home. But it won’t be easy—especially when she finds out someone else wants to make Taffy a part of their family, too!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to craft wickedly effective prose (cont)

This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

Today I'm going to finish up with Hale's chapter on adverbs...

The Bones: "Adverbs are more promiscuous than adjectives" Hale says, and "express either Time (immediately, now, soon), Place (here, there, and everywhere), Manner (boldly, nonchalantly, purposefully), or Degree (absolutely, quite, very). Adverbs tell the reader when, where, how, and how much.

The Flesh: Hale says "Adverbs are crashers in the syntax house party." Most of the time, they can be deleted...

Cardinal Sins: ...especially when all they do is repeat the meaning of the verb like "screeched loudly." 

Carnal Pleasures: Here Hale offers a witty bit of advertising from the Bonny Doon winery, promoting its Bloody Good Red:

"...astonishingly full-bodied, w/good, firm backbone yet still rather fleshy, esp. about the middle...great legs and a huge and utterly complete nose...excruciatingly long & dramatic finish...all in all I must admit that it really was bloody goo..."

There are many more chapters in the book, including Voice, Lyricism, Melody, and Rhythm, and every page is brimming with amazing examples of writers getting it right, and others failing in epic fashion. I return to this book every so often because not only is it a feast of words and lessons, it's a reminder that it's okay to break all those rules once you know them - as long as you do so brilliantly.

Do you have any writing books you turn to again and again?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to craft wickedly effective prose

This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

Today I'm going share the chapter on adjectives.

The Bones: Hale calls adjectives consorts, "never attending a party alone, preferring to hook themselves on the arm of a sturdy noun." Think about that house we talked about earlier. Calling it a Gothic Manse makes it much more interesting but we can liven it up even more by using adjectives to make that Gothic manse more distinctive. Does it have a mansard roof perhaps?

The Flesh: I love Hale's example of how to make our adjectives work for us like our dynamic verbs. Why use yellow, she asks, "given the options: bamboo, butter, canary, chamois, dandelion, jonquil, lemon, maize, mimosa, mustard, ochre, old gold, popcorn, saffron, sauterne, turmeric, and yolk?" Why indeed.

Cardinal Sins: Here Hale warns us against adjectives, almost suggesting we heed Mark Twain's advice to kill all adjectives wherever we find them. But no, she amends, "...kill most of them - then the rest will be invaluable."

Carnal Pleasures: Hale finishes here with a reminder that while less is more in the case of adjectives, the right one can make all the difference, as in the case of Absolut Vodka and its "endless memorable permutations."

What's your take on adjectives? Do you follow the less is more rule?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to craft wickedly effective prose (cont)

This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

Today I'm going to share with you the chapter on Verbs.

The Bones: According to Hale, "Verbs add drama to a random grouping of other words, producing an event, a happening, an exciting moment." (Don't you just love that? This is why this book was so much fun to read!) There are two major classes of verbs: Static and Dynamic. All those to be verbs are static and generally speaking, we should avoid them because...well, they generally don't produce anything exciting or eventful.

The Flesh: Hale says your choice of verb determines whether you're a wuss or a wiz. Beginners often rely on is and other static verbs, and even those of us who have been at it a while will discover upon revising that our entire first draft is riddled with passivity. Want to pick up the pace and liven up your prose? Use dynamic verbs like saunter, mount, shimmer, glower, hop, poke, punch, lurch...and get rid of as many to be verbs as possible.

Cardinal Sins: Hale cites "that bad, bad being" as one the cardinal sins, because most of the time it's used in error, and the rest of the time is probably not needed. An unfortunate example of this sin is this sentence: "It is a machine which I, being one of the few can operate." Can we say cumbersome?

Carnal Pleasures: As an example, Hale offers the reader the "imperative" which "lets the writer address the reader directly and powerfully." Here's a snippet from "Girl" written by Jamaica Kincaid in which she uses this literary device to perfection, with one gallactically long run-on sentence filled with commands (oh, it's waaay longer than this; I cut a lot for the sake of brevity though it truly is worth reading):

"'Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk bareheaded in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off...this is how to love a man, and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up...'"

Not many writers can do this but boy, Jamaica Kincaid sure can!

Do you find yourself using a lot of to be verbs? I used to, but I'm getting better :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to create wickedly effective prose (cont)

This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

Today I'm going to share with you the chapter on nouns...

The Bones:

The word noun derives from the Latin nomen, for name. This is why we have nouns, to name things like people, places, and things (both concrete things and intangible things).

The Flesh:

Most books on style advise using strong nouns that are familiar or standard rather than unusual, and as Hale says, this makes sense. "Who wouldn't take a kiss, any day, over a 'demonstration of affection'?"

Cardinal Sins:

According to Hale, there are "Seven Deadly Sins committed with nouns: Sloth, Gluttony, Fog, Pretense, Gobbledygook, Jargon, and Euphemism." I'm only going to share the first two (because really, you should read this book), Sloth and Gluttony.

Sloth is for hacks who can't be bothered to pick up a thesaurus. Sloths use cliches ("trite phrases blanched of all meaning by overuse") and grab the closest noun at hand. If you don't want to be a sloth, "go on thoughtful
searches for the right words."

Gluttony you can probably guess. Gluttons are writers who "use five words when one would do." Sort of like when the weatherman gives you all these meteorological terms that pretty much result in the fact that it's going to rain. The weatherman can do that. The writer cannot, unless she or he is extraordinarily brilliant - like Charles Dickens.

Carnal Pleasures:

Speaking of which, Charles Dickens could've just said Scrooge was a miserly old man. Lucky for us, he did not:

  "Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." - Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to craft wickedly effective prose

This week I'm going to share some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

The book is divided into three parts: Words, Sentences, and Music, and each chapter is broken into four sections:

The Bones, which reminds us of the keys to grammar. "Learn the sensible system, if only to know how to escape it in flights of creative fancy (it's more flexible than those English teachers would have you believe)."

The Flesh "shows how the parts of speech, the syntax of sentences, and the techniques of music give us the best stories."

Cardinal Sins "catalogs true transgressions...disaster that lurks in mangled syntax...[and] debunks those horrid myths that often substitute for a real understanding of the underpinnings of language."

Carnal Pleasures "shows how breaking the rules can lead to breakthrough prose."

What I loved about this book: It's easy and fun to read, it's witty, and it helps remind me of the rules and when to stick with them and when it's okay to put them aside.

Do you have a favorite book on grammar?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Agent Interviews

Hello, everyone!

This week I'm going to be sharing some interviews with agents. These agents graciously agreed to answer my questions, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate their participation. I really enjoyed corresponding with them, and I enjoyed the answers they shared. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did!

Michael Carr ~ Veritas Literary


Associate Michael Carr is a literary agent with a background in editing and writing, working from a home base in the Northeast. He works carefully with clients to produce the cleanest, most professional manuscripts and enjoys teaching at workshops and conferences to help develop emerging writers. Michael speaks Spanish and conversational French and before joining Veritas had professions as diverse as programming simulators for nuclear submarines and owning an inn in Vermont.

1. What do you represent? 

I represent a lot of historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and women’s fiction. I’m also interested in seeing YA with a genre angle and non-fiction. 

2. What made you decide to become an agent? 

I was doing some freelance editing and kind of fell into agenting after coming across some promising prospective manuscripts. Agenting was a natural fit for me, given my background in writing and editing, as well as having been a voracious reader all my life. 

3. Why did you choose to work with your current agency? 

Veritas Literary is the only agency I’ve worked with. I started working with Katherine Boyle about six years ago when I was helping her with a client’s manuscript and came across some promising manuscripts that I thought she should take a look at. One thing led to another, and soon I was signing my own clients.

4. What is your favorite part of the job, and what is your least favorite part? 

I really love making that call offering representation, and it’s even sweeter when I can tell a new author that she has her first book contract. That will never get old.

I really struggle sometimes with the constant rejection. Sending back queries and rejecting promising requested manuscripts is a big part of my day, and sometimes it’s just too much. I know each of these rejections causes a little bit of pain. It’s also unpleasant when a manuscript has gone out on submission to publishing houses but doesn’t sell. An author has come so close, only to realize she has to start over with a new book. 

5. Sometimes authors develop misconceptions about agents or the publishing industry as a whole. What is one misconception you feel is common, and what would you say to dispel it? What is something you want authors to know about agents in general, or about you in particular? 

There are quite a few misconceptions. Most are pretty harmless. Because querying is so difficult and time consuming for authors, they live in terror of being dumped by their agent, or of offending an an agent who offers representation by asking for a week or two to make a decision. If an agent offers, do some research, ask questions, and take a little time to make a decision. You may have a relationship with this person that will last years or even decades. 

6. What makes you connect with a character? 

I connect with characters who have a strong will, who are not passive, but try to solve their problems. A character that comes to life on the page is one of the keys to great fiction. 

7. Most authors have "Dream Agents". Do agents have "Dream Authors"? How would you describe your "Dream Author"? 

I have a couple of dream authors already. They are warm and responsive, they work hard and take pride in their work without becoming difficult when the time comes to work on a manuscript.

I’ll call out my writer, Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of The Plum Tree, What She Left Behind, and Coal River. She’s just as easy to work with now as she was five years ago when she was a debut author and we were just starting to work together. 

8. What makes a query letter stand out for you in such a way that you HAVE to request more pages? 

It’s not the query letter itself, but a compelling opening. Make me want to keep reading, and I will. 

9. Is there anything that will make you automatically reject a query letter? 

I get a lot of stuff that’s just not what I represent. It gets rejected right away. 

10. What are some common problems you see in queries or manuscripts? 

Resist the urge to explain! So many authors give a nice hook, and then stop the narrative dead to explain all the back story or do world building. We don’t need to know what or why—in fact, the not knowing drives interest—we only need current events to be clear. 

11. What words of wisdom would you like to share with an aspiring author? 

You’re probably not writing enough. Don’t compare your output to other aspiring authors, compare it to people making a living, and try to match. Work hard and be persistent, and you’re ahead of 95% of the competition. 

12. The dreaded synopsis. How do you feel about it? 

I don’t like them, and I never read them until forced to do so. That usually comes when an editor asks for a synopsis. Until then, a hook in a query is good enough, and then I’ll let the book speak for itself. 

A special thank you to Michael Carr for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions!