Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Sound of Prose - Part III

I think this will be the last day of this series of posts but I haven't decided yet for sure. Today I'm going to share a poem with you that I consider an excellent example of rhythmic writing.

Edgar Allen Poe first published his poem The Raven in 1845. In it he borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett's poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship", making use of an internal rhyme scheme as well as alliteration throughout the text. It first appeared in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29th that year. It's publication made Poe quite popular within his own lifetime. Though critical opinion on the poem is still divided there is no disputing it as one of the most famous poems ever written.

It's even longer that Kubla Khan though, so I'll just go ahead and get to it (if you don't have time just read the first stanza and skip to the bottom, that's enough to illustrate the point about its rhythm):


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;--vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore--
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door--
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;
This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door--
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"--
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my sour within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is and this mystery explore--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--
'Tis the wind and nothing more.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if its soul in that one word he did outpour
Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered--
Till I scarcely more than muttered: "Other friends have flown before--
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never--nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee--by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!--
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore--
Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!

This poem is made up of 18 stanzas of 6 lines each. Technically the poem is written in trochaic octameter, which is a specific type of rhythm or poetic meter. A trochee "foot" is a pair of syllables of syllabic sounds that follow a pattern of stressed followed by unstressed. Think of it like a kick drum followed by a snare or like saying "BUM-ba". The octameter part just means that each line is 8 "feet" or 16 syllables, except, of course for the last truncated line of each stanza, which has only 7 syllables.

Poe apparently made arguments that the meter of this particular piece was much more complex, but they are so in-depth that I won't go into them here. Suffice to say that Edgar Allen Poe was an evil genius, second only to H.P. Lovecraft of the greatest American Horror Authors ever.

This post is long enough as is so I'll leave it at that, especially considering yesterday's post got the fewest comments ever! No big deal, I understand reading all these blogs is extremely time consuming, especially with posts as long as this one.

If you did have the time and patience to make it all the way through leave your thoughts in the comments like a badge of honor!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Sound of Prose - Part II

Today I'm going to use a poem that I think has a great example of diction. It's really long so there won't be much room for my inept analysis, but is that really such a bad thing?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan in 1797 after a dream he had about the Tartar Emperor that was allegedly heavily influenced by his use of opium. According to history that part is disputed, but I think the poem makes it clear that such a thing is highly possible. Whether or not it's true takes nothing away from the text.

It sat unpublished and did not become available for public consumption until Coleridge was urged by George Gordon, Lord Byron (another of my favorite English poets who may come up this week) to make it so in 1816.

It should be pointed out that this poem was not appreciated by Coleridge's contemporaries except when he read it aloud - so perhaps it's a good example of cadence as well, but we pretty much covered that yesterday. So without further ado, the poem:


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

There is some great diction in this poem. Some of it has to do with the language of the time, such as sinuous rills, which is a great turn of phrase in my opinion. Sinuous is a word we still use today but as far as I know rills has fallen out of fashion. Apparently it is either a small stream or a valley on the moon. Either one of those fits quite nicely here.

Other times it almost seems as if he makes words up, like mazy for example. It actually is a word, an adjective meaning maze-like but I have never seen it before or since this poem. Momently is also technically a word, but I don't believe that is used in modern speech or writing either.

Just another couple of examples of great diction, not only because of their rhyme and reason, but also because of the unique ring to the way the words sound:

- Mingled measure.
- Miracle of rare device.
- Damsel with a dulcimer.

The poem was apparently cut short after having been originally planned to be 200-300 lines long. It seems as though Coleridge was interrupted by a visitor, and we all know what a bummer that can be when in the midst of a groovy opium trip. I'm kdding, of course.

I wouldn't normally point people to Wikipedia for analysis of poetry but there is actually a halfway decent article on this poem here.

Anyway that's it for today, I hope you all enjoyed it and thanks as always for visiting, but especially for commenting!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Sound of Prose - Part I

Morning everyone. Thank you so much for all the support on Tahereh's post on Friday, I thought it went very well.

I've finished the novel I was reading and have yet to hit the library or the bookstore so over the weekend I was glancing back at Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages, which is not my favorite book on writing but certainly in my top five. In it he talks about the SOUND of writing. I've always cared about this aspect of my words a lot so I thought a would devote a post or two to it.

To me sound (in writing) has always been about rhythm, cadence and diction. He also describes something he calls echoes which in its simplest form is only repeated words or ideas but also grows more complicated. I'm not really smart enough to explain it here so if you want to know more you should get the book. These topics may not seem very important in prose, especially since it is rarely read out loud, and it's true, they are quite subtle but can sometimes make the difference between good writing and great writing.

Diction in its simplest definition is only about the choice of word to use in a specific situation, but it's more than that I think. The illustrious Bryan Russell (Ink) wrote a great post with more in-depth analysis of the concept here.

Cadence would seem to only apply to writing read out loud, and certainly it is much more prominent in poetry, or spoken word, or song, but I find that I consider carefully the beats in a sentence and I hope that this will lead to better balance within a paragraph, a page, a sentence.

Rhythm is much more primal, of course, and in many ways is similar to cadence, but Lukeman makes a great point about the length of sentences and how altering the rhythm of a passage on purpose can make something stand out or slip behind some other ideas. A short sentence surrounded by longer ones can drive a point home with added emphasis.

He suggests that the best way to learn about the sound of prose (other than reading your work out loud or having someone read it to you) is to study poetry. So this week I'm going to feature some of my favorite poems that hopefully are all in the public domain and won't get me into trouble for posting here. I have no college degree and have not studied poetry since high school so I won't give much analysis but maybe I'll introduce someone out there to something new.

Today's poem is Ozymandias. It's a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1818. I believe that he was the husband of Mary Shelley, the famous author of Frankenstein, but I could be wrong about that; please correct me in the comments if so:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The theme here is of course about the decline of civilizations and empires but that is not the point I'm trying to make. I'm not sure why I love this poem or why it has stuck in my mind all these years but I do think the rhythm of Shelley's words has something to do with it. The meter is decasyllabic, which means that there are 10 syllables to each line. It is interesting because it almost seems like the poem could do without the first line and a quarter, but that of course would throw the cadence all to hell.

So that's it for today. Please leave your thoughts in the comments and thanks for visiting!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Milennium Trilogy

Some of you may remember I discussed this novel (the first one) briefly a few weeks ago. I have since finished reading it and have now discovered that apparently, according to an Entertainment Weekly article, this trilogy is the "hottest book on the planet".

Admittedly I have only read the first of the three but I don't quite understand why. Don't get me wrong, the book is quite good, but it's not the best thing since sliced bread and its commercial success baffles me a little. I do wonder whether becoming a more and more experienced writer has ruined me as a reader. A few short years ago I probably never would have noticed the drawbacks, like the achingly slow beginning and the physical relationship between the two main characters feeling contrived and unnecessary. Now they stand out to me, glaringly so. I can't decide whether or not that's a bad thing.

There is an interesting twist to the real life story behind these novels. The author, Steig Larsson, died before even the first one was published. He left behind only a girlfriend (common law wife) of 30 years, his father and his brother. There is now a legal battle over his estate, which with the success of his novels and the forthcoming Hollywood films (there are already Swedish language versions) is quite large. Sweden has no community property laws that would support the girlfriend's case but she holds a unique trump card, or at least claims to: She says she has an unpublished fourth book saved on a laptop that belonged to Larsson when he was still alive. It will be quite interesting to see what happens with that.

If you like crime thrillers go ahead and pick this novel up (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). I haven't read the other two but will probably pick them up even if I was slightly underwhelmed by the first.

Meanwhile some updates:

I've joined twitter. TH Mafi made me do it because she doesn't spacebook. Find me @MatthewMRush.

Speaking of Tahereh her guest blog post will be going up tomorrow morning. It's going to be epic so don't forget to come back for that. In the meantime go read her blog.

The US have made it though to the knockout round in the World Cup, which isn't a huge surprise unless you consider how hard the referees were making it for our side.

What this means is that I'll be at the bar on Saturday afternoon swilling beer with my male friends and getting surly.

Speaking of US soccer our team needs a better nickname. We're known as "The Yanks" which is really lame compared to other teams nicknames like: "Three Lions", "The Azzurri", "Le Bleu", "Bafani, Bafani" and so on.

And just to beat a dead horse regarding the World Cup I saw this in twitter yesterday: This World Cup is working out like WW2 - France have forfeited, the USA turned up late, and England are left to fight the Germans!

Have a great day everyone and don't forget to come back tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sometimes it is a Matter of Life and Death

Today I'm going to talk about soccer, or rather futbol. Most of you have probably never heard of Andres Escobar:

But you might remember Carlos Valderrama, or at least his awesome hair:

Both men were members of the Colombian national soccer team in the early 90's that was favored to win the World Cup in 1994. I figure this is an appropriate topic for the times since we our about to move out of the group stage and into the knockout round of this year's FIFA World Cup.

Andres Escobar was a simple family man. A devout Catholic who excelled on the pitch not only in skill but in his composure he was known as El Caballero del Futbol which means the gentleman of football. He was a kind and respectful person who cared deeply about his country and its people.

He was not related to the Colombian Druglord Pablo Escobar but their paths did cross. In the 80's the rise of the popularity of Cocaine for recreational drug use in the United States was so steep that the Colombian producers and traffickers were getting rich, fast. Any criminal organization with that much money is going to have to find a way to launder it. Club Soccer is big business and matches in places like Colombia at the time could deal with millions of dollars: in cash.

To make a long story short Pablo Escobar eventually bought the club team Atlético Nacional of Medellin that Andres played for. Pablo apparently loved soccer and went around the poor communities building fields for the children to learn the sport on. Pablo Escobar actually did many great things for the poor people of his country with the money he earned from the Cocaine Trade but let us not forget that he was a gangster and a ruthless murderer.

With the money that was coming in Colombian Soccer became suddenly relevant in the late 80's. They had the money to keep their best players and to bring in some others from around the world. Colombian Futbol had never stood up to powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but now all of a sudden they mattered. With these resources Atlético Nacional won the Copa Libertadores in 1989. The Copa is the most prestigious tournament in South American Football, one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world, and essentially equates to the European Cup.

In 1994 the FIFA World Cup took place in the United States. Colombia entered the tournament ranked fourth in the World, heavily favored to make it deep into the tournament. Life back home in Colombia was going crazy. The whole country was in turmoil. Pablo Escobar and many of his empire's soldiers had been murdered by new, even more ruthless gangsters after he had finally stopped murdering politicians in order to change the constitution and eliminate extradition to the U.S. Violence was rampant and the fervor over the national team's chances in the World Cup was at a fever pitch.

Andres was the Captain of the team and the pillar of its defensive back line. They were an excellent side with stars like Midfielder Carlos Valderrama and Striker Faustino Asprilla, but they had just lost their amazingly athletic keeper René Higuita when he was arrested for visiting Pablo Escobar in prison earlier that year. In fact the entire team had visited Pablo and played soccer with him on the prison's field, but only Higuita was caught by the media.

The loss of the star goalkeeper and the violence in Colombia combined with threats from gangsters and gamblers who wagered astronomical amounts of money on the Colombian side's chances in the cup combined to place an insurmountable pressure on the team, its players and especially its captain, Andres. There were death threats coming in and one player even received news that his brother had been murdered. All of the pressure piled up unfairly on the team and caused them to lose their opening match to Romania.

Things got worse and the violence mounted back home. Children were kidnapped, murders continued and more threats were made. Then the unthinkable (in the eyes of futbol fans) occurred. The Colombians lost to the far inferior and lower ranked United States Team when Andres accidentally scored on his own goal by trying to deflect a shot by U.S. Midfielder John Harkes. The team never made it out of the group stage and returned home in shame and terror.

One night soon after Andres went to a club with some friends trying to show himself to the people and atone for his mistake but he was murdered, shot to death in his car by gangster Cocaine Traffickers who had lost large sums of money gambling on the matches. He was only 27 when he died. He had been engaged to be married and was being considered for transfer to AC Milan in Italy, one of the wealthiest and most prestigious club teams in the entire world. His life was cut tragically short.

So sometimes it really is a matter of life and death. Can you imagine being murdered for a mistake you made in a sporting match?

Here are a couple of links:

Andres Escobar on Wikipedia.

Pablo Escobar on Wikipedia.

The Copa Libertadores on Wikipedia.

If you are curious to know more about this sad tale check your local listings for the ESPN 30 for 30 special documentary: The Two Escobars.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fatty Bolger Part Deux

So I mentioned yesterday that Fatty Bolger is back home and safe and sound. He is not, however, very happy or fully healthy yet. Here is a photo of him with his poor little shaved forelegs:

He has to be confined to my oldest daughter's room so that we can be certain that he is using the litter box properly and regularly and that he is eating right and getting his medicine. He is not very happy though being separated from his sister and old lady friend. Serves him right a little for being such a fatty.

I'm only kidding. He actually seems mostly better, but is still on a heavy regimen of medicine. Luckily my daughter loves him very much and is helping out a lot because he needs the liquid twice a day and Mom and I can't always be there.

The bottom line is that I'm pretty sure he's going to be okay - even if he has to look a little pathetic until his hair grows back. I wonder if he can clean himself properly without the fur on his arms there?

Thank you so much all you guys for all your support and positive thoughts and energy. Frisky thanks you too.

NOTE: Yes that is my 14 year old daughter's cheesy leopard print fitted sheet exposed in this photo. No I don't have any idea where Mom got it or why it is in use in our home.


Monday, June 21, 2010


So I'm sure some of you have noticed that my posts last week got much shorter. You also may have noticed that I've had less time to read and comment on your blogs than I would like.

Part of it is because of being out of work on Monday and dealing with the Frisky situation but mostly it is because of work. I found out on Friday that my company is homoting me again. If you don't know what that means it's probably because I made that word up. A homotion is like a promotion except your employer is treating you like a ho.

Essentially I've been asked to handle more responsibilities and duties for the same amount of pay and benefits: a homotion. I'm not complaining, lord knows I'm happy to have a decent job in this economy, but what this means is that I'm going to have to cut back on blogging; especially on reading and commenting, even though I wish I didn't have to.

I am going to post 5 times this week because I don't want to give traffic any excuse to decrease when I have such an awesome guest blogger being featured this Friday (see above). I will have to decrease the amount and length of posts in the near future though, so please be prepared. I will never stop doing the guest posts on Friday, unless I run out of volunteers. Speaking of which I have no one scheduled on my spreadsheet after this Friday so if you want to volunteer please send me an email, or if you know a blogger you would like to see featured drop me a line and I will email them myself. I also don't intend to stop posting my examples of bad queries, at least not until I run out of them, though I may have to start putting those posts together on weekends because of the length of them.

In the meantime if you have a particularly awesome post that you would like me to read and comment on, please don't hesitate to let me know, because I will now only have time to read about 10 blogs a day rather than the 50-100 I am used to.

Please be understanding and stick with me and perhaps one day this will all turn around (when I get published, become super rich and famous, and can quit this dreary day job)!

Friday, June 18, 2010


Today's guest blog post is being done by Faith E. Hough. Please be sure to visit her blog and become a follower.

She does not have an agent but she does have an interesting query that earned her a full request - from an editor. I don't have any experience with querying editors directly but if I had to guess I would imagine that they're even pickier than agents.

As usual Faith's query is in plain black text, her analysis is in blue and my own thoughts are in red.

She would like to explain her situation first:

This is from back when I was querying editors because agents were mysterious to me. :) I sent it out to five editors...three asked for a partial and one of those three asked for a full from that. One of the five sent a form rejection the next day, and the last sent a personal letter telling me how much she enjoyed the query (pointing out specific elements), and though the book wasn't right for her house, she'd be love to see queries for anything else I had.

Of course, this book still isn't published—and I think that is due in large part to the query promising a kind of adventure the book doesn't deliver. So I've been working on that. I'll be grateful to hear what everyone thinks of this so I can perfect it along with the manuscript!

Her query:

Dear (Editor's Name),

The Pieta disappears. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is left white, dry, and peeling. The tomb of Julius II is gone (good thing old Julius wasn’t actually buried there). David is missing, from the curl on his forehead to his perfectly chiseled toe and, well, everything in between.

I wanted to begin with the fun stuff—the problem that the novel is going to hopefully solve. And I wanted there to be humor right off the bat, to make it clear that solving the problem is going to be enjoyable!

I think this is a pretty good hook. It certainly has voice, and does a nice job of hinting at some of the flavor of the humor that I'm sure must be in the novel.

When every piece of art Michelangelo Buonarroti ever laid his hand to vanishes, everyone—and I mean everyone—sits up and notices. But when, in the same disastrous moment, a skinny twelve-year-old named Walter also vanishes, even his classmates in the desks around him don’t realize it. Chalk one up for normal; since Walter’s mother died, he is lucky if his own father remembers to say hello to him in the morning. Suddenly, when he is transported to Gambee, a world where time-traveling villains are obsessed with stealing earth’s greatest art, a forgotten hello becomes the least of his worries.

I hoped to convey here what the MC was like, and what his personal problem is. I tried to carefully choose words that would make you empathize with Walter while wondering about what such a kid would do with such a big problem dumped on his shoulders.

This is fun. I mean sure the premise is a little wacko but as I suspect this is a MG novel that fits perfectly. I can also sympathize with the MC right off the bat - I can remember feeling totally invisible in middle school.

Lucky for Walter, fate (or was it one of the time-traveling villains?) gives him two allies: Michelangelo himself, fifteen years old, plucked from history, but alive and kicking…and spitting and swearing and yelling and punching; and Cassandra, the only girl in Gambee with the courage to stand against her prejudiced world. When Michelangelo and Walter learn the role they are meant to play in an unjust war led by Gambee’s leaders, the three children are determined to stop it by any means necessary, from eavesdropping to espionage to art forgery by a boy who will become one of the world’s greatest artists—if Walter can find a way to get him home.

I wasn't sure—and I'm still not—whether this paragraph was really needed. I felt that it was important to introduce the other two key players in the story and expand upon the plot a bit...but it does begin to drag on. In the new version of the query I'm working on, after revising the ms a bit, I was able to incorporate the important bits into paragraph #2.

I can understand Faith's point - and certainly usually less is more but I think the idea of running around having adventures with a 15 year old Michaelangelo is just so zany that it may just be the highest spark of this query. Remember, sometimes a premise that is unique enough is all you need.

This 51,000-word manuscript, The Art of Elsewhere, was the winner of Connecticut’s 2009 Tassy Walden Awards Program for New Voices in Children’s Literature in the Middle Grade category.

Let's face it: this might have had more to do with the partial request than the query itself. This was a contest judged by agents and editors, and I was really lucky to have something like that to put in my otherwise clean slate of a bio!

I'd say it helps. I'm not familiar with the award but I'm sure an agent would be.

I have enclosed a SASE for your response should you wish to review the entire manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Faith E. Hough

So what do you guys think? I'm sure it's a little different writing directly to editors but I would say that Faith's query would probably work for agents.

Please leave your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comments and don't forget to visit Faith's blog and become a follower.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Importance of Backing Up.

I'm pretty irritated at myself today because I have misplaced my flash drive on which I keep my manuscript and pretty much all my other writing, short stories, letters, blog posts, guest blog posts, critiques and so on.

It's not as tragic as it sounds because I WILL FIND IT but also because I have most of those files backed up. The backups are not 100% current and I will lose a few pages of the re-write of my manuscript but I'm pretty confident I'll remember what I wrote even if I can't find the drive. The old blog posts aren't a big deal because they're on the blog, of course, but it would be nice to have the originals for posterity. Critiqued chapters aren't a big deal because we email them back and forth so much they are on Gmail, which brings me to my next point.

Please make sure to back up your work. Especially if you are an artist or creative person. I know that Access/Outlook report for 2009 quarter four sales figures is important to your company, that's why they have automatic backup services if they are worth a damn.

As creative people we pour our heart and soul into our pages (or drawings, or tracks) and it would truly be a shame to lose those creations for ever. Please make sure you back up your work.

Here are some options you have: first what I do is simply to keep a USB flash drive. Then I sync its contents with my desktop at work and my laptop at home periodically (the current problem is that I got lazy and hadn't synced for a few days, and then now misplaced the drive). You also have to make sure you are aware which version of a file is most current so that you don't overwrite the wrong version. Both Windows and OSX have detailed file/folder views which show the last date/time that a file was updated - you could also include the date in your file naming convention if you so choose.

I also email my manuscript to myself every other day or so. Gmail has nearly endless storage and this is a good option for a sort of last line of defense. It's not perfect because you end up with a bunch of old versions and sometimes they're a little hard to find but it is WAY better than losing everything.

There are also hardware options, like an external hard drive that has a one touch backup function; I believe that Western Digital and Seagate both have options.

Software is also an option, either run locally on your own system or backed up to online servers. I don't recommend this kind of thing because it generally isn't worth the money unless you have large amounts of important data to backup but here are some links if you want to research it for yourselves:

HP Upline reviewed by PC Magazine.

SOS Online Backup (beta) reviewed by PC Magazine.

Wuala (beta) reviewed by PC Magazine.

That's all I have for now. Don't forget to come back tomorrow for Faith E. Hough's guest blog post!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Critique Partners

First of all a quick update on Frisky/Fatty Bolger. Kelly and the kids went to visit him yesterday and they said that he looked very sad with a kitty catheter running up one leg and a kitty IV running down the other ... but he was okay and he responded to their presence, which I think is a good sign. I couldn't go with because I have this stupid thing called a day job.

Anyway I think he is going to be all right.

As far as my actual post it will have to be short today but I just want to say that I am loving my critique group right now. Their feedback is astute and they have the courage to be honest with me, which is difficult but of course crucial to the process. I only hope that my feedback is helping them as much as theirs is helping me.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fatty Bolger

Sorry if you missed me and The QQQE yesterday but I missed work and got no chance to post. That little guy on the right is the reason. I was combing my facebook for a more recent picture of him and hate to have to admit that I don't have one. I checked Kelly's and she had this which does show his cut little face but is also over a year old:

Anyway the black one is our cat Frisky. He is about two years old. His sister's name is Mithrandir (I swear that my daughter picked that name, I only hinted that it might be cool). He now weighs 16 pounds and his belly hangs to the floor. That is why I have nicknamed him Fatty Bolger, a minor character from this little old book that I happen to like.

So the problem is that Frisky is very sick. We noticed him spending literally hours in the litter box over the weekend, and then on Sunday he was crying and hissing all throughout the night. He began leaking a sort fecal/urine like liquid on Monday morning so we knew then that something bad was wrong and made an appointment with our Vet ASAP. It turns out that he has blockage in his urinary tract. Apparently male cats can easily develop a condition that is similar to kidney or gall stones in humans except that it is much more serious. So it turns out the the poor little fellow had been blocked all weekend and had not been able to use the bathroom properly. He was in a lot of pain.

There is a procedure to correct it, which is somewhat expensive, but certainly worth it for such a young cat's life. The problem is that they have to make sure no kidney failure has begun to occur.

Needless to say I had a rough weekend and Monday, and as we are still waiting to hear about his kidneys my nerves are a little raw. I'm confident that he is going to be alright but I'm still a little bit nervous.

Please keep Fatty in your thoughts and prayers for now. Thank you.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Today is going to be a little bit different than some of the other guest posts but don't worry, it's in a good way! As you all know today's guest is the amazing Hilary Wagner. Please visit her blog and become a follower, you won't regret it.

So, the difference today is that Hilary wants to share some thoughts about queries and advice in general before we wade into her query.

I'll let her take it away:

On queries in general:
Before I began writing my query, everything I read about the query letter terrified me to my very core! Basically, you're led to believe that this one page letter can make the difference between landing an agent and getting published or seeing all your hard work languish on your laptop forever. Sadly, it's true! On that note, I had to get over my fear and write my query the way I wanted to write it. I tried a few of the "formulas" at first, but quickly realized they did nothing for me apart from making my query bone dry and boring. So, I threw all the academic things I learned about the query out the window and started writing no holds barred. This is what I came up with. Is it a brilliant, mind-boggling feat of query genius?! But it did the trick and that's all any of us can ask for!

Advice: That's a tricky one. I'm not a huge fan of giving advice, because what works for me, may mean disaster for someone else. I suppose all I can tell anyone in good faith is to always write from your heart and tackle your query the same way. Don't try and be tricky or overly clever and don't try to come across as more than you are. People see right through that. Just be you. Write about your wonderful story and show everyone why it deserves to be read and shared with the world. Your story is exceptional. Your query should be too, because your hard work deserves nothing less than that. Don't let it down.

Now there is a little difference to how she wants to share her query too. She is going to highlight in red the sections that she will then discuss in blue. It makes sense to me so I hope it makes sense to all of you as well. If I find the courage to add anything I'll color it green, with envy, for how awesome NIGHTSHADE CITY sounds.

Her query:

Nancy Gallt Literary
Attn: Ms. Nancy Gallt, Founder & Agent

Dear Ms. Gallt,

As a girl, still at the age when toys were the appropriate gift, I hated getting dolls. I did not want to pretend to be their mommy or make up pleasant conversation surrounded by tea and biscuits. I found them more than a little annoying, with their perfect noses and pristine curls.

We are told as writers to grab our readers within the first few pages of our MS. In my mind, the same thing goes for the query. When I say grab, I don't mean strangle either! Ha, ha. It just has to keep an agent of editor reading.

I certainly can't argue with that. The prevailing wisdom in everything that I've ever read on queries is that the first sentence is the most important. As Hilary points out it is pretty much the same as with your novel.

Instead, I loved animals, particularly of the rodent variety. I would sit in my room for hours, stuck in between my toy rats, mice and moles, spinning their next exotic escapade in the odd and mysterious world in which they dwell. Animals have emotion and depth, offering much more than companionship, especially when given a voice on paper. NIGHTSHADE CITY combines this voice, with the realm of fantasy, character driven fiction, and our continuing, albeit creepy, fascination with the cryptic, four legged creatures that overrun our great cities and homes. Outwardly just vermin, but are they?

I added this question to peak interest. Trying to say clearly these aren't your run of the mill rodents--they are special.

This is perfect. It is just the right kind of teaser, giving a negative connotation to the rats, but then hinting at the much more exciting (and adorable) truth. I should point out here that I have not read NIGHTSHADE CITY. The Rats may be ferocious ... or noble, or somewhere in between, but to me the idea of the brothers standing up for what's right against the Ministry SOUNDS adorable.

It may not be in the novel but the point here is to hook the reader, if I was the agent and I got the wrong impression, albeit a good one, and it made me request pages then the query still did its job.

The rats of Trillium City are underground and have been so for years. Little do the weary humans of the steely city realize, an ancient throng of strangely intelligent rats exist right under their very feet, thriving in the intricate Catacombs excavated lifetimes ago.

Barely escaping alive, rat brothers, Vincent and Victor Nightshade, flee their underground home, the Catacombs, dodging mandatory recruitment by the Ministry run Kill Army. They make it to the surface, disappearing into the dark, human metropolis of Trillium City, where they stumble upon a hidden rat made tunnel, and trek down to a concealed world, buried farther in the earth than even the Catacombs. Founded by a group of rebel rats, the covert city’s residents are set on derailing the corrupt Ministry of the Catacombs, and freeing its many citizens from death and torment at the hands of the narcissistic Killdeer, the charming and decadent leader of the Ministry, and Billycan, a peculiar and slightly demented ex-lab rat, who commands the Kill Army with a bloodthirsty fondness for butchery. When the Nightshade brothers join up with Juniper, the ardent leader of the newborn city and despised adversary of Billycan, they soon unearth the demons that have haunted Juniper since his youth and learn how their father, Julius Nightshade, really died. Working with Juniper and his rebels, a fearless Ministry seamstress, and a relic tribe of earthworms, Vincent and Victor Nightshade battle for retribution and redemption against Killdeer and his army, realizing their future and releasing ghosts from their past.

Here's where things got tricky for me and reading this now it still bugs me. My story has several twist and turns, but I had to narrow it down to one little paragraph. If I had to write my query again, I'd probably shorten this part even more. Don't even get me started on my synopsis! Ha, ha!

I'm not going to critique Hilary's query, mostly because I think it great, but I see her point. I struggle with this too. How do you boil down a complicated plot that you spent months concocting into something that fits on a single page, hooks a reader and still give the entire gist of the premise of your novel? Less is generally more with queries but as she said about advice, trust in yourself. The same rules won't work for every project.

Writing fiction since childhood, I’ve written NIGHTSHADE CITY, an 89,000 word novel, focusing on fighting for what you believe in, the true meaning of family and refusing to let a few decide the fate of many.

I saved my word count until the end. If they don't like your query they aren't going to care about word count anyway, so use the earlier paragraphs to sell your story. I added very little info about me. I wanted them to care about my story! I figured if they liked my MS, maybe they'd care about me later!

As you guys know from reading my blog I call this housekeeping. There is some debate out there about where to put it. When I begin querying again I will be placing it at the end like Hilary. I think she makes an excellent point about hooking right away. There are some valid arguments about putting it in the beginning, or even after the first paragraph, but I like it best here at the end.

The only caveat I would add is to make sure you research each agent that you query separately. If they want something SPECIFIC please adhere to their expectation. No need to shoot yourself in the foot before you get it through the door.

Thank you and take care,

Hilary L. Wagner

So that's it! Are you excited to read NIGHTSHADE CITY as I am? Are you so happy that you now know a blogger who's book actually comes out THIS YEAR? I am.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us Hilary! You rock hard like the walls of the catacombs.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wheel in the Sky

It's a strange feeling for someone as long winded as I am but I have no idea what to write about this morning. I could just not post but currently I am in so in love with blogging and the interaction with my friends that is really not an option. Kind of like calling out of work and admitting you're hungover.

Anyway I did watch Glee. Now that we have U-Verse and a DVR we have been recording it and watching the next day because that much excitement at 10PM is just a little too much for Madison, my 8 year old, even in the summer. It was the season finale and it was pretty good but still didn't live up to my expectations. They did miss out on one grand opportunity. The kids did a Journey medley for their performance at regionals and while it was decent they didn't even do the best song. Everyone knows that Wheel in the Sky is the most epic Journey Ballad and I can't believe they didn't cover it. Oh well.

In other notes and updates I'm in a good mood this morning because I ran into an old crush on Facebook. I moved to Minnesota just before 6th grade and of course entered a new school. There was a girl there named Charlie who I fell madly in love with within the first few days. I was a nerd who played dungeons and dragons and wrote stories so of course she ignored me. I was devastated for the next few months.

Long story short her family photos on Facebook are filled with rugrats, and the whole family, including mom, are wearing bright orange hunting vests, camo, and holding rifles. She is still a pretty lady and I'm sure they have a happy family but it's kind of nice to know things never would have worked out as my childhood hopes and dreams had fantasized imagined.

So, now that I have thoroughly dated and embarrassed myself what else is there to say? Critique group is going very well. I'm actually discovering that I'm pretty good at giving feedback on others' writing and my partners have already told me that my questions and comments are making a difference for them. The idea that I'm helping others make their writing better, even if only a tiny bit, is pretty cool.

Otherwise the most important thing this week is of course that you all make sure you come back tomorrow for Hilary's guest post. I have not read NIGHTSHADE CITY yet, of course, but from her query I can say that Hilary clearly has a charming and entertaining story on her hands. Learn a bit about how she landed her agent when she posts her query here tomorrow.

Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Too Much on Our Desk

I think I'll throw another bad ass query up onto the wall of shame for you guys this morning. These are getting a little boring to put together. Not because I'm embarrassed, trust me I'm way beyond caring by now, but mostly because they are all so similar. I'll try to make this one as sarcastic funny as possible.

As you can see I finally decided to look up how to use strike-through text. It's fun but I'm sure it will stay interesting for a long time get old quickly.

Anyway here's another drab query:

June 2nd, 2009

Dear Sir or Madam,

Yes I actually wrote that. In the query no less. There is an excuse reason though. This agency had a very thin website with very little info about the submission guidelines and the actual agents who worked there. If I were querying now I probably would not contact them but I knew less than nothing back then. I think I was probably trying to be a smart ass about this lack of info, at least that's what I'm telling myself now.

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well. I also feel obligated to inform you that this is not an exclusive submission and although I do not yet have an offer of representation there are several other agents who have requested and are currently reading full or partial versions of the manuscript.

Yep I went there. Over and over and ... you get the picture. This is such a bad example of how to go about this that if it were my first time sharing it I would be hanging my head in shame. Instead I'm skipping through an alpine meadow filled with heather ... and wildflowers and other pretty stuff.

The book is about a young man named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle's home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. The story does not begin to incorporate any magical realism until about halfway through, when the students begin to discover some magic in the curriculum, which is based on east-Asian calligraphy and Buddhist/Hindu mysticism.

1) List MC.
2) TELL what happens.
3) TELL the exact theme of the novel in the most clinical manner possible.
4) Don't SHOW anything.
5) Remove foot from mouth keyboard from toilet.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

I wonder how many agents actually know who these authors are. I mean sure the comparison here is egomaniacal enough already but I think the fact that these authors are somewhat obscure only makes it worse much more hilarious for us to look at now.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:


Or even to pin my query to the wall in the break room at your agency so all can laugh together at my ignorant desperation.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

Their reply:


Thanks for thinking of our agency but we have to pass at this time. Too much on our desk we must first attend to. Good Luck in your quest.

Literary Agency REDACTED

I suspect that this rejection was written by the AI software that runs this agency. I'm only kidding, at least in the reply I learned a person's actual name. Too bad it was a gender ambiguous name and it was too late anyway. No matter, this query stunk like toe jam anyway.

I do like that he/she/it used the term quest though. That makes it sound much more noble than this query made it look.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

British Pretendium

As you know I don't normally post twice in one day but when I read this ridiculous article I had to share it with my readers.

Apparently British Petroleum has purchased the search term "oil spill" so that the first link will take readers directly the their own website so that they can convince everyone of all the wonderful things they are doing to clean up the spill.

Here is the article.

I tested it and it's true. Here's a screen shot:

To read today's normal post, please click here.

EDIT: I had to put this post back up for those who missed it and because I found this hilarious (tragic) photo:

Critique Group

I'm not going to do much of a post today because I have revisions and critiques to work on and I'm still trying to cut back on my blogging schedule. I did promise on Friday though that I would talk about my critique group so I will do something brief here just to introduce them. Most of you probably know some of these men but you also probably know less of them half as well as you'd like to ... anyway.

It was my idea to start a crit group of men only, who were my age or near, and who all write (obviously) and blog. Please understand I LOVE LOVE LOVE my women writer/blogger friends and I have been critiqued by them before as well and I may one day join another crit group (if any of them will have me) but as this is my first time participating in one of these things and I am rather shy I thought having partners like me might soften the blow. Oh well judge me if you have to ...

We need to come up with a cool name for ourselves. I was thinking something like The League of Ordinarily Surly Men or something stupid like that. Anyway let me introduce you to the members (please visit their blogs and become followers if you don't already know them):

Roland Yeomans.

Ted Cross.

Ben Hutchins.

Simon Larter.


Simon is actually currently a Silent Partner because he did not have a novel ready for critique but he has said he wants to take part in the near future so I am doing my best to drive some piddly amount of traffic to his blog as well.

So that's it. See you all tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Alan Wake

Anyone who owns an Xbox 360 and is a writer should give this game a try. It's not the most incredible gameplay or amazing graphics (though both of those aspects ARE good) but it is one of the most interesting stories I've seen in a video game in a long time.

Alan Wake is a bestselling novelist who has had writer's block for the last couple of years. He and his wife Alice decide to take a trip to the fictional towns of Bright Falls, Washington. It's an idyllic setting with snow capped peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and dense pine forests. Eventually his wife goes missing and it all turns into a nightmare.

I won't ruin the story but I will share a little bit about the most fun parts for me as a writer. Throughout the game you are running around collecting pages of a manuscript that Alan doesn't remember writing and yet is a key part to the mystery. Then at one point your literary agent, Barry (that's him in the picture above in the red down jacket, Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts) shows up to save you. He drives a Hummer and is basically a stereotypical New Yorker except he acts more like a Hollywood agent most of the time. It's funny because the people who made this game obviously didn't realize that literary agents in real life are already like rock stars. Have they not seen Nathan Bransford's hair?

You can read the manuscript pages as you collect them and I must say: though the story is very disjointed and there are a lot of cliche phrases, the writing ain't bad. The game even quotes Stephen King in a monologue at the beginning.

Now if that's not great entertainment for us dorky writers, I don't know what is!

Now I need to take care of some business. Hilary Wagner has agreed to do the guest post for TheQQQE this Friday and her book NIGHTSHADE CITY is set to be released by Holiday House Books this October. Here is what THE Rick Riordan had to say about it:

“Fans of Redwall and the Warriors series will love this heroic tale of good versus evil in a subterranean society of rats. The world of the Catacombs is so compelling readers will wonder if it really might exist under our city streets. Expect great adventures in Nightshade City.”

When I told my kids that Hilary was going to be kind enough to grace my blog with her presence and what Mr. Riordan (their favorite author) had to say about her novel; they literally squealed.

So obviously this means that all of you will be marking your calendars and making certain to return on Friday but it also begs the question who will be sharing their query in the week following Hilary? As of right now my spreadsheet is empty after her. I need to get on it and decide who I want to ask to be a guest but in the meantime I want to put it out there that any one of you who has a query that earned you at least one partial request can be a featured guest here. The idea is just to share and analyze queries that worked, at least as far as accomplishing that important first step.

My email is on my blogger profile if you want to volunteer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blogging Announcement!

Hey sorry for the trickery but I used that exciting title to try to entice some of you to come read ... again.

I'm going to try something different this weekend, partly to make up for no guest blogger today and partly just to see how it works.

I do want to make a very serious point first. I LOVE LOVE LOVE all my blogging buddies. All the other novice writers and even agented but unpublished authors out there who show love and support are so cool ... I'm not even sure I know how to properly express my thanks. I'm not going to do links here because I'm on a iMac here at home and my keyboard is basically pretty effed up but ... there are some particular people I would like to thank:

Justine Dell. We met on NB's forums. She was one of the first to give my query an honest crit. She was my first guest poster. She is my FBFITB.

Cole Gibsen. Cole is the coolest writer/samurai/ninja/homegirl that you have never met. She was my second guest blogger and though she is not YET published her crazy awesome debut novel KATANA is due out in 2012. Right Cole?

Rachele Alpine. Rachele is an English Teacher AND an MFA student and she is also going to be published soon. Her debut novel CANARY is on submission and shall be published soon. She rules because she is very helpful with crits and has a wonderful positive attitude.

Bish Denham. I won't go into details but Bish was the first one to "show me the ropes" of blogging and what kind of behavior is acceptable, what is borderline, and how to respect your fellow bloggers. She was honest and real and I truly appreciate it.

The Alliterative Allomorph. Jessica is one of the best ever because she had the stones to email me and ask if I was ignoring her on purpose (I hope it's okay to share about this Jess! I love ya!). I wasn't but I WAS new to blogging and had never followed her even though she commented on like my whole second week's worth of posts. If she hadn't said something I would have missed out on one of the coolest, realest, most honest writers I now know.

Tahereh. TH Mafi is the most talented writer I know. Period. That would be enough to make her awesome but she is also a prolific commenter on my blog and a fiercely loyal friend. I want to compare her to Sam Gamgee/Sean Astin here but I'm concerend she may be insulted.

Candace. Candace did a guest post too for her ridiculously unique novel. Which is great, but what really strikes me about her is that she is the most like me of all the bloggers I know. She's street smart as hell but still optimistic and a dreamer. She's honest but still smart enough to know when NOT to tell the truth, but most of all she's ghetto fabulous, in a good way.

Katie the Creepy Query Girl. Katie is still a mystery to me, mostly. As an American living in France she pretty much has the life we all envy but her writing is very crisp and she has just about the most classic sounding novel I've heard of in years.

Shannon McMahon. Shannon was the first person EVER to ask me for advice about blogging. We met on NB's forums which is like an auto gold star for our friendship but seriously ... I was such a noob I didn't know what to say to her! The advice I DID give her she took to heart and now she has one of my very favorite blogs. My only complaint it that since she has her own domain she needs to set it up so that I can download her recipes. THIS CHICK CAN COOK Y'ALL!

Lindsay aka Isabella. Lindsay is another sort of shy friend just like me. She is one of my very top commentators but she is totally on top of keeping us all up with the blogoshpere on her blog.

Jen from Unedited. Can you believe this lovely lady isn't published, isn't agented and hasn't even started querying yet? I can't.

Slam Dunks. I believe this guy is an ex-cop. He may or may not even be writer (though his blogging rules, and as far as I'm concerned that counts). What I love is that he spreads the knowledge about stories that should not have yet been laid to rest. And he is a first class family man, like me (I hope).

Sheri from Graffiti Wall. Sheri, known to many as Salarsen is the hippest chick out there. She's a writer, a dancer, a mother and a lovely wife but she is down with the illest styles and spends her time doing her best to highlight other people's careers.

Lisa and Laura Roecker. I don't know quite what to say about these two but they are pretty much like rock stars. I call them Lady LiLa, which is just like Lady Gaga but with two heads and MORE style.

Elana Johnson. Elana is like the quarterback at your local high school except she's nice. The analogy only works because she's famous AND accessible but it doesn't really apply because she is so much more giving than your average Al Dallas (that was the QB's name on my Chattanooga TN HS football team. I was a tight end. I swear this is true.)

Suzette Saxton. Suzette was the first blogger to send me a Google friend connect request. Then she introduced me to several of the best blogs I've yet discovered. Her sister Bethany is pretty cool/nice too but it was Suzette who reached out to me.

And here we come to the point. This is where I want to make something crystal clear. I'm worried that I offended some people with what was taken as a complaint about Suzette. If you look at today's earlier post you'll see a comment by an anonymous poster in which I was taken to task a little for what I said about Suzette. I sincerely hope it was a misunderstanding because I have an inkling of a clue that that poster actually knows something about Suzette that I don't.

I just want it to be known that me in particular, but I suspect other novice writers feel the same, really really, REALLY appreciate that agented, soon to be published, and even sometimes published authors take the time to participate in our blogs and give of themselves selflessly, hoping to assist in others reaching their dreams as they have done.

As a contributing author on the Query Tracker blog, Suzette is one of the very few who give so much that many of us can't quite comprehend it. I'm essentially mortified that someone would think that I would say, let alone think, anything negative about her. I sincerely hope that if she finds the time to see these posts she discovers the truth at the heart of them.

I'm not the smartest guy around but I care a lot about writing, reading and publishing and I think that people like Suzette, who are willing to mentor others, even if just a little bit, should be considered gems of islands in this turbulent sea of hope toward becoming published.

That's all I have to say about this right now but I'll make a promise for the sake of posterity. If I get ten comments on this weekend post I'll do another and tell you guys a bit about my unique critique group.

Next Step in the Process

I have some bad news this morning. I emailed Suzette Saxton three times this week to remind her of her upcoming blog post that we had scheduled for today. I have not heard back from her. I have Hilary Wagner lined up for next week but I did not want to bump her up because we just agreed on the post this Wednesday.

Suzette is usually very communicative and helpful so I certainly do hope she is all right. In fact she was the first friend who connected with me on Google friend connect. She introduced me to bloggers like Elana Johnson, LiLa and Michelle McLean and their blogs. Of course Suzette also contributes to the Query Tracker blog, writes books and is repped by Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Lit so I'm sure she's very busy. It is also possible I suppose that I got her email wrong but I'm pretty sure I replied to an earlier conversation.

Oh well, no big deal ... I'll just have to post one of my own "successful" queries and try my best to analyze it for you guys.

So here goes:

May 21st, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, which has the working title WARRIOR-MONKS and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well. I will not include any sample chapters because your website clearly states that you will request a manuscript if you have an interest.

This is not very good housekeeping. I am AMAZED that she requested further pages with no word count admitted to and no clear genre declared. The part about her guidelines is okay.

The book is about a young man named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle's home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. It is an introspective and character driven novel in which the plot is not necessarily the focus but still has enough interesting occurrences to move the tale along as the reader comes to know and love the characters.

This is all very meh. I guess it worked for her in a sort of "here you go" business presentation "I'll just tell you some of what happens" kind of way but I really have no idea what hooked her. I can see maybe if she had allowed the first five pages this wouldn't matter but I honestly have no idea what she liked about this.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

We've covered before how this is presented poorly.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:


Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

Her reply:

Dear Matthew,

I want to thank you for considering REDACTED Literary Agency as a possible fit to represent Warrior Monks. Based on your initial pitch I would like to read more of your work to consider it for REDACTED representation. If you are still in need of a literary agent, please follow the submission guidelines listed below for us to review your work in-depth. Although this is not a guarantee, nor an informed review, this is the next step in the process—congratulations.

Please print out the first 100 pages, or the first five chapters, of your manuscript and mail it to:

REDACTED Literary Agency


You must also include:

1. A cover letter stating the title and one sentence theme of your manuscript.
2. A brief biography on yourself and specifically your writing experience.
3. A self addressed and stamped envelope sufficient to return your materials after our review.

I look forward to reviewing your work in more detail.

Literary Agent

REDACTED Literary Agency, LLC

I wrote back:


Thank you so much for your interest in my project but before I print and send my partial manuscript I want to make sure I format it to fit your preferences. It is my experience that some agents have very specific expectations when it comes to formatting of a manuscript. Currently my book is single-spaced and written in the Arial font at 11 point size. Switching it to 12 point and changing the paragraphs to double spacing would use a lot more paper but I understand that reading single spaced print can be tough on the eyes and I am perfectly willing to format the manuscript in just about any way that you would like. I am very much looking forward to having you review my novel but I want to make sure that it is the condition which is best suited for your needs. Please let me know whenever you have a moment and I will send you my work and the other requested items in the appropriate format.

Thank you,


That was so dumb. I mean it was polite and professional but I was such a greenhorn then I had no idea there was such a thing as an industry standard. Oops.

She was pretty cool about it though:

Thank you Matthew. Double spaced serif font is preferable.

All my best,


The hard part was going to be the bio and one line summary. I wish I still had those to share with you guys but if memory serves they were pretty bad.

Anyway I printed out the first hundred or so pages, double spaced, and paid to send them to her via media mail.

I heard nothing for a month so I emailed her one more time:


I certainly don't expect you to have finished reading my partial manuscript because I imagine you are very busy, but it has just occurred to me that I should check to make sure that you received it in the mail. Please drop me brief line whenever you have a moment and let me know whether you received the partial manuscript and other materials.

Again, thank you very much for taking the time to read and consider my project,


I never heard back from her. Still haven't. It wouldn't be that big a deal except that she made me print all that stuff out. I wrote in the cover letter that she could recycle it rather than send it back but a reply to say she had received it and was not interested would have been nice.

I mean yes, I was flattered that she liked the query or at least the premise for the story and at the time I was of course VERY excited but now knowing more I'm not surprised that she rejected it, just a little miffed that she didn't even reply. Oh well.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Not so full of Glee

I have a bone to pick with Ryan Murphy and the others who are involved in the writing of scripts and selecting tunes for the hit Fox TV Series: Glee. Most of you know that in spite of my NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, FIFA and sportscenter preferences I do enjoy this show to the fullest. Tuesday's episode is one I have to bitch about.

The title of the episode was FUNK. FUNK. They did some great numbers like Good Vibrations, Loser, Man's World and others but
I really think that they missed out on an excellent opportunity. Hell they even mentioned the band P-Funk by name AND used the phrase MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION. WITHOUT DOING a P-FUNK song. I consider that sacrilegious, well not quire perhaps, but nearly.

I can see how possibly they thought that the show would somehow disrespect the reputation but I say that's ridiculous. Sure P-Funk is very different from anything the producers behind Glee have ever attempted, but they've pulled it off before. Don't Stop Believin was a played out old early 80's hair band song until they re-introduced it to the world and shocked us all.

Here is some P-Funk linkage:

Parliament on Wikipedia

On a side note Sue Sylvester may be the greatest shit talker who ever lived on film.

EDIT: So hopefully anyone who saw the episode will realize that I wrote this during the commercials. Blogging takes a lot of time and ... oh quit bitchin. For those who didn't see it I will now admit that the show did a parliament number at the end! For those who have to ask Parliament is P-Funk. THEY DID IT! Has there ever been a show wish brassier balls? Normally shows crash because they push limits to this level.

Right now I need Ryan Murphy's email cause I have some other suggestions. Okay. The P-Funk number was not the best the show has had. It was not phenomenal. It was very, very good though.

They didn't select the best P-Funk song but it was a good one and they did Turn This Mother Sucker Out ... in their own way.

I'll leave you with some George Clinton/Parliament quotes:

"You can dance underwater and not get wet!"

"I don't surf or swim!"

"This is a real type of thing, going down, gettin down."

"So kick back, dig, while we do it to you in your eardrums."

"Good evening.
Do not attempt to adjust your radio, there is nothing wrong.
We have taken control as to bring you this special show.
We will return it to you as soon as you are grooving."

"Everybody's got a little light under the sun."

Anyway I get it. If you don't get it you don't get it. Fine. and if you have to ask you'll never know. I suppose I've dated myself with this but I don't care. I WAS pretty cool ... once upon a time back when.

And yes this post is short and the reason is I have news. Marietta Zacker emailed ME yesterday and APOLOGIZED for taking so long to get back about the crit of my first 30.

I told her not to worry of course, we all know agents are busy ... but I also asked if she would mind accepting my first person re-written opening instead of the first 30 I already sent and she agreed to do it!

I will be sure to keep you all up to date.

EDIT: I just heard a terrible story on NPR this morning. Apparently MGM who is partnered with Warner Bros. for the production of The Hobbit is so broke that they have halted production of the films. Sad sad day. Hopefully they'll get this worked out soon.