Visit us at WriterUnboxed.com, or click to join our FB page.
New This Month at WU
It’s been a tumultuous month. Between Hurricane Sandy and Cyclone Nilam, many of you are facing significant challenges. If you are, please know that our thoughts are with you and yours. I speak for the Unboxed team when I say we hope the day soon arrives when debates over Oxford commas seem relevant and crucial.
Good Naming Skills
In the meantime, do you see that smiling face to the right? Meet Julie Duffy, WU community member and creator of the newsletter title “Writer Inboxed." When put against its competitors in a poll, said title garnered a whopping 65% of your votes.
Julie writes fiction. In fact, as you read this intro, she’ll be knee-deep in composing her third NaNoWriMo novel. She’s also passionate about the short story form—so much so that she founded StoryADay.org, a community designed to mentor and support writers of short fiction. She hosts the StoryADay challenge each May, and has penned a number of manuals on short-story writing, all designed to help writers craft fiction every day, not “someday.”
To learn more about her, her books, and the StoryADay community, reach Julie at her website, or @storyadaymay.
Until next month, Unboxeders. May you be safe and dry in real life, even as you rain calamity and conflict on your characters.
~Jan O'Hara, WU Newsletter Editor
When not contributing to Writer Unboxed, former family physician, Jan O'Hara, can be found at her citrusy blog, Tartitude.
21st Century Tips
by Donald Maass
“His guts twisted in anguish.”
Tell me, when reading the above do your own guts twist in anguish? No? I didn’t think so. Neither do mine. Any emotion that’s neon, obvious and familiar will land on readers’ brains with a dull thud. An overly artful rendering of feelings can also leave us empty:
“In that moment she knew the infinite quietude of an icy blue sky, a winter emptiness both biting and precious.”
Say again? Nice words but what do you feel? Not much? My point. Much of what is supposed to convey high emotion in manuscripts has low impact. To pierce through to readers’ hearts, it’s necessary to catch them by surprise. Emotions on the page only provoke emotions in readers when they’re both real and fresh.
Here’s a way to work on that:
▪ What’s the last scene you worked on? What’s the strongest emotion felt by the scene’s point-of-view character?
▪ Now write down two other things that character is feeling as the same time.
▪ Take the last one you wrote down and explore it: Is it good or bad to have this feeling right now? Is it liberating or shameful? What’s the best or worst thing about it? What precise color is this emotion? If it were an animal which one would it be? What is it like to feel this feeling? What does it say to your POV character about herself? What does it mean that this emotion exists in the first place? Is it from God or from Hell?
▪ Write out a paragraph about feeling this feeling using the notes you made above. Do you like this paragraph? Does it have a place on the page?
▪ If you were banned from writing about the feeling, what would your POV character do or say that would let us know she’s feeling that feeling? Include.
Secondary emotions can be far more effective than primary emotions in bringing an inner moment alive. Magnified and elaborated they can be powerful. Why settle for dull thuds? Try stirring readers hearts with feelings they don’t expect, but which are nevertheless true.
Literary agent Donald Maass is the author of Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing 21st Century Fiction.
Back to the Table of Contents
The Book That Changed My Life
by Jacqueline Carey
A lot of my childhood memories center around reading. Thoughts of C.S. Lewis conjure up the old red vinyl beanbag chair in my bedroom where I first passed through the wardrobe door with Lucy. The scent of woodsmoke evokes the pot-bellied stove in my grandmother’s cottage, and curling up beside its warmth with Nancy Drew to puzzle out the secret of the old clock or solve the mystery at Lilac Inn.
I learned profound life lessons with Taran in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain, including the staggering notion that you don’t always get your heart’s desire. But the book that changed my life was The Persian Boy by Mary Renault.
I was ten years old the summer I read it. I consider it the first grown-up novel I ever read, which isn’t fair to many of the wonderful authors I’ve cited, but it was the first book anyone told me I was too young to read. I was spending a week at Camp Pendalouan, and I ran out of reading material within the first few days, during the enforced boredom of a post-lunch nap in our cabins. The Persian Boy was sitting untouched on my counselor’s bookshelf, and I begged her to let me read it.
It took a while, but she finally agreed, albeit reluctantly and with warnings about the mature content. I read it from cover to cover, captivated by the story of Alexander the Great, narrated by the Persian eunuch Bagoas. To be honest, there were a few things that went over my head. Thanks to all the horse books I’d read, I had a vague notion of what ‘gelding’ meant, but I was sketchy on the details. Nonetheless, I loved the book. I loved the way it brought the past to life, making figures from history live and breathe. I loved the mythology. I loved the lyricism of the language.
And those are things that stayed with me, and shaped me as a person and a writer. Falling in love with The Persian Boy, and subsequently all of Renault’s novels set in ancient Greece, informed my passion for research and travel. It’s no coincidence that I became best known for writing historical fantasy, bringing to life the rich tapestry of a past that never was, but might have been.
In fact, the opening line of my first novel, Kushiel’s Dart, is a direct homage to The Persian Boy. It’s the least I could do to acknowledge a book that changed my life!
Jacqueline Carey is the bestselling author of the Kushiel’s Legacy series of historical fantasy novels, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, & postmodern fables Santa Olivia and Saints Astray. Her new release, Dark Currents , is the first volume in the Agent of Hel contemporary fantasy series. Find her at www.jacquelinecarey.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
Back to the Table of Contents
by A. Victoria Mixon
Q: How can we go deep enough into first person without the reader being subjected to "I" every sentence?
A: Excellent question, John Murray McKay!
1) Eliminate all internal dialog
Now, there’s a distinction between internal dialog and internal monologue. I learned this by looking up “dialog” and “monologue” in the OED. Dialog is defined, first and foremost, by dialog form, which is punctuation that sets dialog apart from narrative (generally quotation marks, but also dashes or italics) and, perhaps, dialog tags. This is internal dialog:
’It couldn’t possibly work out well,’ I thought as I reached for the doorknob.
Monologue, on the other hand, is defined as the narrator speaking directly to the audience. This is internal monologue:
It couldn’t possibly work out well. I reached for the doorknob.
As you see, we’ve cut our instances of “I” in half here by using internal monologue rather than internal dialog. And the reader is closer to the story experience because we’ve minimized that barrier of the narrator between reader and story. But it gets better than that.
2) Eliminate all reference to how the protagonist senses things
This is a reference to how the protagonist senses thing:
I felt the warm wind and smelled hibiscus, and I knew I was home.
This is the same information without that reference:
The wind was warm and full of the scent of hibiscus, and I knew I was home.
Again—there goes another instance of “I.” Oh, boy! And the reader is immersed even further in the story experience. This is why I always tell aspiring writers to remove all internal dialog: immersion. I’ll talk more about this in “Making Tension Tense” on the Writer Unboxed blog on Friday, November 30.
Independent editor Victoria Mixon is the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction and The Art & Craft of Story. Have a question for Victoria? E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her @VictoriaMixon using the hashtag #WU.
Back to the Table of Contents
by Chuck Sambuchino
Q: "When I query an agent, should I include my blog address somewhere even if the blog is getting very few clicks? Or does it work against me because the blog is so small?"
A: At the end of your query letter (below your signature), feel free to put down all your contact information. Besides pertinent info such as your phone number, yes, feel free to include your blog URL if you like. It's totally optional. An agent won't be able to tell that your blog has low traffic. What they will be able to tell immediately is if the blog is professional and looks decent and has some quality content on there, rather than, say, posts about how people in the publishing industry are actually the devil, etc.
So I say yes. If the agent is interested in you and your work, they'll want to know a bit more about you, so talk about yourself and your writing accomplishments somewhere on your website and blog. Ultimately, if you're on the fence and don't want to direct an agent to your blog or under-construction website, then don't. It shouldn't make too much of a difference for fiction writers who are querying.
Chuck Sambuchino is the editor of Guide to Literary Agents , and the author of How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack as well as Red Dog / Blue Dog (July 2012).
Back to the Table of Contents
Shares one anonymous author:
Before querying agents, I purchased a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace, which allows a search of “top agents.” I identified the twenty agents who sold the most books in my genre to major publishers and queried them. I was thrilled when the very top-selling agent in my genre agreed to represent me. According to information available on Absolute Write, her agency is one of the best.
I signed with her in April. In May she submitted my book to five publishers. By January, eight months later, she had received four rejections. She sent me an email saying, “Your book needs something, but I don’t know what, so I will step aside.”
I contacted the fifth editor to follow up, and the editor had never heard of me or my book. (I don’t doubt that the agent submitted my book to this particular editor. I believe such a long time passed that the editor entirely forgot about the submission.)
I later learned that this particular agent frequently drops clients whose books do not sell quickly or easily. I have now grown very cynical when I hear the phrase “top agent” or “well-respected agency.” It could be that the reason the agent sells lots of books is because she immediately dumps anything which is not easy.
If you want to work with an agent, my suggestion is to keep a close watch on what they do. If your agent is not willing to copy you on all correspondence, it may be because they aren't sending much out. If you sign a contract with an agent, make sure you have an easy way out. That way, if you feel your agent isn't doing much for you, you can move on.
by WU Mamas Therese Walsh & Kathleen Bolton
Stumped on how to move forward with your WIP? Suffering a bit of writer’s block at the dreaded midpoint of your novel? Try writing the ending of your story first. Sometimes knowing where you want to end up helps you find the right path forward.
JK Rowling famously wrote the ending of her Harry Potter series first (she adjusted it later) and it acted like a guiding light as she worked through the seven-novel series.
Therese Walsh is the author of the novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House), and a professional freelance health writer.
Kathleen Bolton is the author of young adult novels Confessions of a First Daughter and Secrets of a First Daughter, under the pen name Cassidy Calloway (Harper Teen).
Both co-founded Writer Unboxed as an online community for writers to discuss the craft and business of fiction writing.
Back to the Table of Contents
Facebook Community Roundup: You Couldn't Have Told Me
by Vaughn Roycroft
“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not.” ~Steven Pressfield
When I interact with non-writers or new writers, I’m often confronted with the conventional belief that writing is only about putting words on the page. People ask, “How’s the book coming?” and what they mean is: “What page are you composing in relation to ‘The End’?”
It’s understandable. You could have tried to explain revising, being critiqued, submitting, being rejected, re-revising and resubmitting to me before I experienced them, but you never would have been able to prepare me for what was in store.
Interacting with the WU Facebook group not only helps me to understand and accept each stage of my journey, but also reassures me that I’m not alone. Community keeps me sane and keeps me going.
This month’s links feature a few of the things writers do beyond putting words on the page.
▪ Revising your own work can—and often should—be brutal, as illustrated by Veronica Sicoe in Manuscript Revisions—Let’s Draw Some Blood.
▪ You have to dig deep to really know your characters. Jo Eberhardt interviews hers, and shows how to ask the tough questions in On Writing and Developing Characters.
▪ We must also look beyond the book to the career. Lydia Sharp reminds you to Build Your Readership by Simplifying Your Menu.
▪ Research can be tedious and dry. Linda Leander shows us how to take black and white snippets and bathe them in Technicolor in Just the Facts Ma’am.
▪ Sometimes we start over, and a manuscript is shelved. Sometimes old dreams are reborn. Normandie Ward Fischer inspires us by Signing on the Dotted Line.
Could you use some company venturing beyond putting words on the page? Join the Writer Unboxed Facebook Group.
After twenty years battling trolls and warding off the curses of evil witches, Vaughn Roycroft left the business world to write epic fantasy.
Back to the Table of Contents
A Conversation With . . . Diana Renn
by Liz Michalski
Diana Renn's first YA novel, Tokyo Heist (Viking Children's Books/Penguin), is old-school mystery cloaked in the hipster settings of Seattle and Japan. With gangsters, classic art, and cool-kid comic books, it has something for everyone.
Liz: Your YA novel Tokyo Heist has a heroine caught between several worlds -- between Seattle and Japan, between the world of manga and the world of traditional art. How familiar were you with these different worlds before you started to write?
Diana: The only world I knew well was Seattle, but even that required research as I wasn’t plugged into the current art scene. I had been to Japan but not to all the places Violet visits. I love art but I’m neither an artist nor an art historian. I worked in a comic book store years ago, and knew a little about manga, but it didn’t have the following it does today. So while I had a few footholds into these “worlds,” they required intense research.
I read a lot. I studied Japan travel guides and videos. I consulted experts in different fields, haunted museums and galleries. I spent two weeks in an art museum shadowing an art conservator and then working as a volunteer, which gave me access to some rare Japanese prints.
My general process was to go on a research binge until I felt confident enough to start writing. Then I wrote until I hit a roadblock and researched my way around it. Even if I didn’t use all the facts I found, just the process of researching sometimes jumpstarted creative ideas to solve plot problems.
You drop everything from art terms to Japanese phrases into your novel, yet it never seems as if you are 'educating' your YA reader. What's the secret to including this kind of information without info-dumping?
Violet’s constantly learning – she needs information about art and Japan in order to broaden her perspective and to solve the mystery – so the reader learns along with her. Assigning a variety of characters to relay information helps break up the info-dump tendency. I have several adult characters who are also experts in various fields. I tried to incorporate information in dialogue, avoid lengthy informational paragraphs, and define Japanese phrases in context. Violet sometimes explains manga terms, assuming that not all readers will share her passion for that art form.
Diana's writing's can be found in a variety of magazines, including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Literary Mama, The Indiana Review, and Cricket Magazine for Children. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and son, and is working on her next novel, also a YA mystery. For more of Diana, visit her website or blog.
Liz Michalski has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. Learn more about her and read the first chapter of her debut novel, Evenfall (Berkley/Penguin) at www.lizmichaski.com.
BOUNDLESS: A Digital Publishing Roundup
by Erika Liodice
Survival isn't just on the minds of every squirrel, chipmunk, and bird this time of year, it's a top priority for digital publishers too. Here's the latest...
The continued growth of Amazon, Apple, and Google in the e-book market has Big Six publishers hunting for ways to remain competitive.
"The book publishing industry is starting to get smaller in order to get stronger. The announcement on Monday that Random House and Penguin would merge narrows the business to a handful of big publishers, and could set off a long-expected round of consolidation as the industry adapts to the digital marketplace." Find out more at The New York Times.
Thanks to a new publishing engine, self-published authors can now distribute their books to libraries.
"Libraries can now provide this resource to any would-be author, allowing them to create, publish and distribute their musings along-side the world's finest authors in either a traditional or e-book format." Get the details at Publisher's Weekly.
What's on the Horizon?
With the launch of Whispercast, Amazon seeks to deploy fleets of Kindle devices and content to students, employees, and other large groups.
"Amazon today unveiled its new Whispercast for Kindle service, which provides businesses and other organizations like schools a way to easily deploy Kindle content to members, students and employees across not only Amazon hardware, but also Kindle apps for iOS and Android devices." Read about it at TechCrunch.
Erika Liodice is the author of the recently-released novel Empty Arms and an award-winning blogger at Beyond the Gray.
Back to the Table of Contents
Reader Unboxed Book Review: The Red Garden
by Amy Sue Nathan
I don’t always find it easy to step outside my literary comfort-zone, yet every time I have done so, I’ve been pleased. Therefore, when I discovered Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden spanned 300 years of fictional Blackwell, Massachusetts’s history, and was akin to a novel in stories, or interconnected tales, rather than a traditional novel, I was intrigued, yet reticent. But since I’d promised myself that I’d intermingle my reading list in 2012 and beyond, I went for it.
What surprised me most about The Red Garden was that it was character-driven--and that the main character was actually the town of Blackwell. While each chapter was a separate entity, almost a separate story (note: almost), you wouldn’t want to read chapters out of order. Each tale lead seamlessly to the next, with snippets of town history, folklore, and residents woven in. I might have only found one nugget of familiarity in a chapter, but that is what kept me going. It intrigued me to wait for my ah-ha moment when I’d discover the thread Hoffman had woven in on my behalf. It was very much like the town of Blackwell was telling the stories of its inhabitants, its history, and its folklore.
And the folklore was at the crux of The Red Garden, which referred to a garden in which only red plants grew. By the end of the book, I did not know if the garden was real, or if the folklore had taken over the imagination of Blackwell residents as it had mine.
What I found unique about this novel was that its intensity was unexpected, even though Hoffman was not a new author to me. There were characters I missed when they were never mentioned again. I can only imagine that Hoffman might have missed them as well, feeling, like I did, that bits of the stories remained untold. Reading The Red Garden I learned to let go of preconceptions about where stories may or may not lead. And I came to accept that not every story needs a happy ending. Or an ending at all.
Amy Sue Nathan is the author of The Glass Wives , to be published by St. Martin’s Press May 7, 2013. Find her at her blog, Women’s Fiction Writers, or on Twitter as @AmySueNathan.
Back to the Table of Contents
Newsletter and Subscription Policies
▪ Have feedback about the newsletter? We'd love to know what you think.
▪ If you're reading this because a writer friend forwarded this to you and you'd like to subscribe, click here. We'll never sell your address, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
▪ Learn about WU's review policy here.
*Photo by Flickr's wheat_in_your_hair