Monday, January 25, 2016

Why Do I Write YA?





When I still worked as a teacher and librarian it always saddened me to hear students say they hated to read. This was unimaginable to me. As a kid stories sustained me and were often my only friends during my family‘s frequent moves. Books were my guides to the world, a dialogue in an otherwise empty room. They were a message in a bottle.

It’s no accident I became a school librarian, English teacher, and later, a fulltime writer of YA. The seeds for our identities in the world are planted during middle grade and high school years. It's the first breath of independence from your parents. They may try to imprint their ideas and values on you, but during this time your personality forms its own framework.  You discover what you’re good at, what you suck at, who your friends will be, and if you’re lucky, what inner passions will drive you toward your life’s work.

I didn’t pay attention to the details of my identity, or perhaps I wanted to erase the Book Nerd stamp etched on my personality, so I wasn’t so lucky. Throughout my late teens and twenties I floundered around trying on a litany of college majors and half-assed jobs, and dating guys who, for the most part, were bad news.

Yet maybe I was lucky. These muddy side roads added layers to my experiences. Writers create alone, often sequestered in a small room in the back of their home or in a corner table in a coffee shop, but in order to create authentic work, writers also need experiences. We need to talk to people, work with our hands, know how it feels when someone breaks your heart.

In the late 80s, after finally earning my Bachelor’s degree with enough credit hours to have a PhD, I started writing. I wrote bad stories, wretched poems, and a really terrible novel. Most of that work is hidden in a file drawer. While my early work will never see daylight, to throw it out would dishonor the progress I have made. All writers start out being bad writers. Our work is derivative, filed with cliché, and often inauthentic. We haven’t learned to trust the process, to slice your heart open and bleed into the work. We get better by writing, reading, writing more, writing deeply, reading, revising, taking workshops, writing, writing, writing….

Good writing is driven by passion. I’m not talking about Harlequin romance lust, though many fine writers write romances. By the time I was thirty I realized books and words were my passions, and in quick succession earned a masters degree in library and another in writing. As a certified Book Nerd (aka school librarian and English teacher), my work opened up a new arena for writing.

Everyone has a story and writers are story magnets. If we listen, people strangers  share their heartbreaking, tender, funny, sad, incredulous, and authentic stories. We expect They are my muses.

As a teacher my heart was further broken to hear students groan and roll their eyes when I broached the subject of poetry. To them, poets are all dead white guys who use too much flowery language and write about things that have nothing to do with their lives.

They had yet to encounter Pablo Neruda.

By teaching Neruda’s poems, my students learned “the word was born in the blood.” They were attracted to the violence in how the knife assassinates the tomato pulp and “how the sun floods the salads of Chile, beds cheerfully with blonde onion, “and parsley flaunts it little flags,” the in Ode to a Tomato.

One can't teach passion, yet my fervor for Neruda’s poems elevated my students’ concept of what poetry is, and opened the door to reading and writing poetry. It’s also no accident Pablo Neruda simmers at the root of my novel.

My characters in BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA are only real to me and my readers, yet their inception comes from a real place. My life experiences inform me, and allow my imaginary friends to channel their stories through me.

Digital publishing and social media have allowed everyone and his brother to easily promote their books, so a recent phenomenon for writers is to promote their ‘platform.’ Initially this concept left a bad taste in my mouth, as if I’m a product like running shoes or a bag of chips.

Platform can be defined as what we stand for or what causes we support. I believe in Pablo Neruda, poetry, books, and stories. Stories are the thread binding us together, peeling back the mysteries of our own existence.

Words are my platform.  Happy Reading!!

Meanwhile, here’s a review from a Goodreads reviewer:

Jan 16, 2016 HNGC Library rated it really liked it
This is a gem of a book that really should have a more eye-catching (read inviting to young adult eyes) cover. On the first day of mandatory community service, Michael meets Shelly an intriguing force. But Michael doesn't have time for intriguing forces in his life. He is just trying to survive the mess of his life. He's going to be a fifth-year senior (after an unfortunate incident at school); he lives in his ancient car; he's focused on daily survival and keeping the authorities from knowing that his mom is a hoarder. Michael has his coping mechanisms down pat - he knows how to forage for food from dumpsters, take showers in rest stops sinks, get cologne samples from magazines, and not be too bitter about his circumstances in life. As the days in community service go along, Michael learns that Shelly has secrets too and they form an unlikely friendship. Michael shows a lot of strength for an 18 year old - far beyond his years. While many in his situation won't get the happy ending Michael gets; it's nice to think there is relief for some kids who have such difficult lives.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five Reasons Why Seattle Is a Writer’s Haven




It’s no accident Seattle is full of writers, and now that I’ve lived here a few months I’ve narrowed down the key reasons.

The weather is sad. Summer is pleasant, with long days and low humidity, but in fall, winter, and early spring the rain, wind and early darkness are like an Adele song, perfect for crafting serious reflection and sad love scenes. The other day I revised a critical moment where Michael, my protagonist, despairs over his relationship with Shelly. He senses she is moving on. As rain pelts from the pewter colored sky and wind chills the air it’s easy to slide inside Michael’s nadir.

Coffee. During winter, when sixteen hours a day is spent in darkness, the caffeinated warm beverage is a portable happy light. When I was still teaching in Ohio I kept the ubiquitous morning brew on my desk, but I barely tasted it. My morning cup of Joe provided rocket fuel to jettison my night owl body into being awake and functional in the deadly dawn. Now that I am retired and choose my own hours, I savor my coffee at a leisurely pace. It warms my palette and hands and aids the creative process.

Because coffee is a necessity here, coffee shops abound in Seattle. There is a either a Starbucks or an independent coffee shop on each block of the city and its environs, and every grocery store hosts a coffee shop. (Except for WinCo. What’s up with that?) Coffee shops are nirvana for starving writers. We can spend as little as three bucks and occupy space for several hours as we create our masterpieces. Most coffee shops also provide food, plugs and free wifi.

Coffee shops are filled with other writers. Being in the company of writers is essential because we writers tend to live inside our own heads. We tolerate friends and family but prefer to spend large blocks of time in solitude. Yet writers periodically emerge from the darkness to commune with like-minded souls. As I write this I’m sitting across the table from my friend and fellow writer Cat. We ignore one another as we peck at our keyboards, yet we transfer an invisible thread of energy, like musicians jamming together, except our tunes are silent, the notes appearing on the page.

Because writers live near or in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest hosts several writers’ conferences every year, and is home to the Hugo House, which holds frequent readings and workshops .

Seattle has bookstores and libraries. Writers are readers, and Seattle has the largest percentage of library card holders in the nation (80%) along with 1.5 bookstores per 10,000, people. Almost any spot in the city is within a fifteen minutes drive to a library or bookstore.  No experience can replicate a physical bookstore. Even Amazon, the online behemoth, discovered this, which prompted them to open their own brick and mortar store in the university district. Sending a book directly to your device is convenient and cheap, but it doesn’t replace the experience of a book falling open in your hands, emitting its old or new book smell.

Seattle has its drawbacks. It's ridiculously expensive to live here, and unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson, you ain’t making money off your words, so your favorite stores become Value Village, Goodwill and Grocery Outlet. Traffic is miserable, especially if it rains. There is public transportation, but it hasn't kept up with the exponential population growth. Cities like NYC and San Francisco one is better off without a car, but here, you still need a car. And yeah, the weather often sucks.

I haven't even mentioned the endless distractions, on how a good day it’s hard to resist jumping on a ferry to visit one of the nearby islands, or taking a walk through Sculpture Park along the waterfront on Elliot Bay.

One can write anywhere, but I have chosen to write here. As long as I have my writing tools: laptop or pen and paper, coffee, and noise canceling headphones, I’m all set.


Where do you like to write? 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Getting the Details Right




In the manuscript I’m revising there’s a scene that takes place in Seattle’s Sculpture Park. Problem is I had not actually been to Sculpture Park. It’s free and open 365 days a year. Other than revising, I had nothing else on the agenda today.

Initially I planned to take the bus because 1,) my cousin gave me some free bus passes that expire soon, and 2,) driving (and parking) in downtown Seattle is a pain. But it was cold and rainy when I left my house this morning. Not the most ideal weather for an outdoor excursion but I couldn’t revise my scene any further without actually setting foot in the park.

I drove south on Highway 99 to 105th and continued south through Ballard on Holman, which morphs into 15 th St. NW and changes into Elliot Way. Allegedly there’s a parking garage near the park, but luckily for me I couldn't find it. I saved myself 6 bucks by parking at The Spaghetti Factory, which doesn't open until 4:30. It’s located right across the street from the park entrance.

Sculpture Park resembles a boardwalk more than an actual park. It sits right on the seawall overlooking Elliot Bay, adjacent to the Port of Seattle. Today was damp, windy and chilly, so there were only a handful of walkers and runners braving the weather. The surf was high and choppy, and if you stand against the waterfront railing you feel like you’re on a boat. If I were a runner this would be a great place to train. One gets a waterfront view, a few cool pieces of sculpture, and ample leg room.

The sun came out as I began my walk. The entire park is a little over three miles, and I would have trekked the whole thing, but I needed to pee and there were no bathroom facilities, so I only walked about a mile of it and turned around and headed to the Port of Seattle. Because it’s winter, the waterfront on Alaskan Way wasn't crawling with tourists. Last time I was here was in summer and the crowds were so thick it was claustrophobic outdoors.


I dipped inside the Clipper Cafe, used their restroom and sipped a cup of coffee as I watched the cresting waves and ferries arriving and leaving the dock.

I’m glad I made the journey; it will give my scene more authenticity. , even though the scene itself is relatively short, it happens at a critical moment in the plot. Now that I know how to get there and where I can find facilities I plan to return before spring, before the crush of people spoils the view.


 Happy Writing.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It Is a Small World




I recently returned to the Pacific Northwest after more than forty years in Ohio. Essentially my entire adult life was spent in the Buckeye state, with respites to various parts of the globe. I came from a mobile family, and the longest we stayed in one spot was five years. We lived overseas for a spell, and I came back to my home country a Third Culture Kid- one who was not fully American anymore. I had seen too much of the world and met people from various backgrounds to fully buy into the American ideal.

Yet somehow I ended up smack in the middle of the US. I took two of my three degrees in Ohio, and split the forty years in the state living and working in Columbus and Zanesville.

Then I retired, and could go anywhere the wind takes me. So why did I choose to disrupt my life and move Seattle?

A few years before I retired from teaching I tinkered with living in Arizona, where its sunny all year. But I know almost no one there. Cleveland and Chicago were on the list. We lived in the windy city when I was a kid, and I know my way around Cleveland and have friends there. Both cities are adjacent to water, are rife with culture, and have good public transit.  But their winters are too cold. I’m done with snow.

Florida is too humid and home to too many bugs. Besides, I’ve lived in the tropics; it’s called Ohio in July and August.

If I had barrels of money I’d move to the even-keeled warm climate of Hawaii. Trade winds keep the temperatures around seventy degrees, it's surrounded by ocean, and the vibe is laid back. But it also costs a king’s ransom to live there, you can't get in the car and drive to another state, and after awhile the pleasant weather becomes a little tedious.

As a joke, I’ll say, “for the bookstores.” Yet there is an element of truth behind that statement. I’m a bibliophile, and living within a few miles of access to physical books is akin to surfers needing to live near the coast. (I also live fairly near several bodies of water here, so you can call that reason number two.)

The weather is far from paradise. Winters are dark and drizzly, and I learned a couple of climate surprises: freezing fog and sun breaks. The cost of housing is outrageous and traffic is horrendous.  The New Yorker has predicted we will face a devastating 9.0 earthquake any time now. Nobody sane would move here, but those who know me well use other adjectives to describe me.

I retired from teaching but I continue my work as a writer. Even though writers are loners, I need to be in proximity of writers. On those isolated occasions when I socialize, I like talking shop with writers. Normal people don’t chat about their imaginary friends the way fiction writers do. And there are bookstores here, so on any given day I can go listen to an author read from his or her work.

Seattle is weird. Weird in a way a perennial-new-kid-book-nerd-last-kid-for-the-picked-for-teams-way-fits-in. On the bus traveling downtown I’m only among a handful of native English speakers. It’s as if I am back in Hong Kong, Bangkok, or London. A stranger in a strange land that feels familiar. I am a French, African, Chinese, Hawaiian, Mexican, Canadian, Italian, English, Pakistani.

If I had any money I can buy anything I want. There’s an entire store for Root Beer in Shoreline, and near Pike Place Market is a shop just for maps and globes. There are numerous spice markets, and a coffee shop every few feet

Ultimately I chose Seattle because of family. I am now a twenty minute drive from a cousin, and, on a rare day when traffic actually flows, a three and a half drive from my brother and his family. Before moving from Ohio I made an annual trip out here, which meant seven hours or more of air travel. I have seen my relatives more in the past few months than collectively in the last decade.

I miss my wonderful friends, and face to face contact is best, but social networking reduces the distance. In the old days it sometimes took two weeks for a letter from a friend or family member to arrive. Now I can instantly learn status updates, see photos of their antics, and share cat videos.

Several friends have already threatened promised to come stay with me. Hardly anyone visited me in Zanesville, but Seattle is a great place to visit. I’m learning my way around, so stop in for a visit and I’ll give you a tour.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is a Small Business Best for Gift Giving?




Today is Small Business Saturday, a tradition that began several years ago to counteract the guerrilla-like shopping tactics of Black Friday. Small businesses can’t offer the deep discounts of most retailers, but they offer other perks you won’t find at the mêlée of the shopping mall.

My family never did the Black Friday thing. Maybe I was raised to be a bad capitalist, but even my sister-in-law, whose middle name is won’t-buy-it-without-a-coupon believes the discounts the day after Thanksgiving aren’t worth losing sleep over. Often if you wait a couple of weeks retailers will lower prices on comparable items.

After working on my manuscript, I only left my house yesterday to return books to the library and check my mailbox. No shopping was involved.

Today I had one trip: to the Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds, WA to purchase a gift for one of the kids in my family. (We adults have resolved not to exchange presents as none of us needs ONE MORE THING in our homes. We donate to charities in one another’s names.) Even the kids have more than enough toys, so of course writer and former librarian me gives books as gifts.

Edmonds, a charming town on Puget Sound north of Seattle, was teeming with shoppers, yet I managed to find a parking space close to the store. It had a fifteen minute limit. For me shopping in a bookstore, 15 minutes is a good idea, otherwise I might buy more than I need. The bookshop was crowded, and I sidled my way to the Children’s book section. Within a few minutes, a young woman approached and asked if I needed any help.

In a giant retail store, it’s unlikely a clerk will wander through and offer help. My experience with chain bookstores is you wait at a counter to ask, and the under-appreciated clerk, who has just dealt with a gaggle of rude shoppers, will point to a section of books and turn to help the next customer.

Since I am unfamiliar with books for the age group (which I won't reveal since I don't want the recipient of my gift to know just yet,) I took advantage of browsing through the young woman’s several suggestions. I chose two.

Cognizant of my time limit, I glanced briefly at other shelves, and stood in line to pay. After the clerk rang me up, she asked if I wanted my items gift wrapped. No charge. “Sure. That’s one less present to wrap.” I was even able to choose from three paper patterns.

As I waited for my gift to be wrapped, the store’s proprietor handed out canvas tote bags with Shop Small imprinted on both sides.



Even you missed shopping today, make it a goal to buy at least one of your holiday gifts at small business. It will make a difference to the man or woman who owns the business and his or her employees. 




Happy shopping.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dialogue with Myself in the Rain



I’m sitting in the coffee shop, not really writing, just messing around. It’s raining too hard to leave, though, and I have a blog I’ve ignored for almost two months. I’m trying to write a conference proposal for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association (PNWA) conference. It's a big deal. I’m not a big deal. Not yet, anyway.

One thing the PNWA wants on the application form is my ‘expertise with the proposed topic.’ I’m an expert in Being a Failed Novelist. Yet that’s no longer true. My book comes out in May, so I could skew my talk about How I Booted Out of the Epic Fails. But then my novel might be an epic fail.

How did I get that book contract again?
Oh yeah: Persistence and Plan B.
That title might work. My expertise is in continuing to write in spite of the astronomical odds against me.

There are innumerable reasons not to become a writer where you can avoid facing blank pages and blinking cursors, spend too much time inside your head, and end up writing in the rain.
One could have a life.
But what is a life without pursuit of what charges your batteries?

Like any ineffable passion, writers write in spite of the rain, in spite of the odds of success and money are so remote that being hit by a meteorite is more likely.

Another criterion on the PNWA for m is to list three things attendees will learn.

1)                  Writing the novel was the easy part.
2)                  Even if you have an agent, a book contract, or have begun a new project, you need to invest time in managing the details toward the book’s publication. It won’t get done for you.
3)                  Your friends and family don't mind that you write, but they don’t want to hear about the process. So the introverted writer must become part of a community of writers.

The PNWA also wants my life story in 100 words, a 50 word summary of my presentation, and worst o all, a photograph of me.

So here I sit next to a rain soaked window as high winds knock down tree limbs, contemplating persistence and Plan B, wondering if a photo of my cat will suffice.



Happy Writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Have a Permission Slip?



A writer spends hours, weeks, and sometimes years bending over the keyboard or typewriter, suffering over sentences, scenes, and characters, creating his or masterpiece. One day, this writer reaches the end of the story. The draft is complete, the hard work is done.

Not so fast.
If you intend to get this tome published, the work has only begun, you foolish, silly writer.  There are steps they don't tell you in writer school.

First, this mass of pages is not a book. It's a draft, and if it's the first draft, likely a grainy one. But here is your chance to revisit your characters and sharpen the focus. Here you will delete scenes, correct typos, supplant repeated use verbs and phrases, and make it readable.

Next you will need to find a trusted reader or readers who will truthfully tell you what works, what doesn't, and why. Find at least one reader who writes well and is willing to be brutally honest.

You will revise and edit. If you are a typo queen, as am I, you will be smart to hire an editor before you submit or pitch this novel. This is money well spent, because this editor can also offer critical advice.

You are now ready to sell it.
You've go through the revision and the dreaded submission process. You form a band called Query Street and the Screaming Synopsis… no wait, you don’t have time to perform in a rock band.
You get a book contract (yay, ego boost) and are working with an editor who loves your book and has great plans for you. You have a due date for your final mss and a publication date.
Now is not the time to lie on the beach, dreaming of the Yacht you plan to buy with your millions…..Okay, advances aren’t what they used to be unless you’re James Patterson. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey But still, the hard part is over now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

It is up to the author to secure Permissions. Unlike writing a research paper or master’s thesis where supplying a bibliography will suffice, if you quote from another work, say a song, a poem or a novel, you must have written permission from whoever holds the rights to the work.

This can be tricky, because sometimes the publisher holds the rights, but there are caveats as to how works can be used. Even though the Nobel Laureate died in 1973, he left no heirs, so the Neruda foundation in Barcelona, Spain handles this negotiation.

Permissions aren’t always free. The foundation asked for a thousand dollars to use one poem, and two lines from two of Neruda’s poems. My book is called Breakfast with Neruda, so I need at least some quotes, so we settled on a much smaller amount to use two lines from two separate poems. My original draft opened every chapter with a Neruda quote, which in retrospect would have cost me more than my condo. (Luckily an early reader said, while she loved the poems, she felt opening each chapter like that was heavy handed.)

Permissions can be a wild sheep chase. I quoted another author, and the publisher told me to contact the agency, so I wrote to him, and he told to contact the publisher. I ended up deleting this quote.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a song, but the record company doesn't own the rights, and had no idea who did. Scratch that. I just name the song.

The author of a poem I planned to use in the final chapter died three years ago, and I had no idea where to contact her heirs. I sent a condolence note on the funeral home page, but I’m not sure people check those after the first few months of the loved one’s passing. I didn’t after my brother and father passed.

Working on permissions isn't as soul wrenching as writing a query and opening the flurry of rejections, but it keeps me from writing, so it feels like work.

The benefit of permissions. Obviously getting permission protects you from lawsuits and possible scandal, but it also helped me reconsider some of my decisions. Rejecting some of my content opened me up to look at alternatives.

I’ve gone through revision and editing, and I have approved the cover art, (smaller houses sometimes give authors input on their covers. Big houses don't.) The next step is the dreaded author photo. I stumbled upon a photographer who claims she can make me look twenty years younger...


Writing the novel was the easy part.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Latest Writing Adventure



Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t have much sense, so it’s no surprise I signed up for an eight week course where I hope to have completed a draft of another novel. The final manuscript of Breakfast With Neruda is submitted, the draft of its sequel is tweaked, and book three is begging to be written. So why not?

How Writers Write Fiction is an annual event sponsored by the University of Iowa, known for producing noted writers such as Robert Olen Butler, Flannery O’Connor, and Rita Dove. The class is being led by poet and essayist Christopher Merrill and novelist Angela Flourney. Best of all, the class is free. (There’s an option to take it for a certificate of completion for $50.00.)

For the past seven days I’ve set up my account, joined a discussion group called Readers Writers, formed a discussion group I titled Not Your First Rodeo, and completed some of the short pre-writing assignments.  The course doesn't officially commence until Oct 1, but the organizers devised a series of Welcome Week activities which include instructional videos, readings, and writing exercises designed to establish writing communities and familiarize us with the course components.

. I like that the course has options for beginning and advanced writers. In both cases, peer feedback is part of the attraction. My recent move has left me bereft of my writing peeps. I have one local friend with whom I write, yet I’ve also been getting to know writers in my two discussion groups.

I chose Readers Writers because the level of discussion revealed participants who read at a deeper level than most book discussion groups. Also, the group was small. In a free course offered worldwide, it’s important to find a niche group. There are teaching moderators, but since I’ve not taken the class before I’m not sure this works. I imagine feedback won’t be live.

I also sponsor a group I called Not Your First Rodeo for experienced writers. I hope to find one or two people here with whom I can exchange meaningful dialogue and criticism.


In addition to readings and writing assignments, there will be quizzes. Only certificate seekers are required to take them, but I plan to participate. I may find I know nothing about writing fiction.

I’ll keep you posted.
Happy Writing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

10 Steps to Getting Your Novel Published



Sane people are not writing novels. They are spending their free time taking dance lessons, going to barbecues, learning how to golf, and having drinks or coffee with friends after work. But you're only marginally sane, and you decide to write a novel.  

Step One. Decide what type of novel you want to write. This part is easy. What kinds of novels do you read? If you’re drawn to romance or chick lit, perhaps that’s in your wheelhouse. Do you love danger and carry a gun? You should write a mystery. For years writers have heard “write what you know,” but good writing is also about finding what you don't know. A well crafted novel combines both.

Step Two) Write a draft of say 55,000 words. This could take as little as a month (see nanowrimo.org) or several years. In any case, it’s not a bad start, but you know it’s not ready for publication. You just don't know why.

Step Three: Show it to someone. You have several options here. A) Take a writing workshop where you attend a First Pages session. The instructor asks for copies of participants’ first pages. (This is after he has just demonstrated how the first page should snare the reader, identify the protagonist, and reveal conflict. (For more on this read Hooked. http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-all-articles/hooked.) The workshop leader projects these pages anonymously on a giant screen, where he deconstructs yours. Words you thought looked good on your laptop screen reveal too much back story, show no hint of conflict, and vaguely give the reader a picture of who your protagonist is.

Revert back to Step Two. Call this 2 A)You write two more drafts, where you restructure the story, refine characters, and flesh out details; the manuscript grows to 70,000 words.

Step Three B) Take another workshop with a Famous Bestselling Writer (FBW), whose work you admired. FBW treats you and your work as if it were stinking up the room. You stash the manuscript inside a suitcase and leave it there. Maybe writing isn't your forte. Several months later, you clean out a closet and find the albatross, and decide it’s not horrible. You make a few changes, and C) choose a writer friend who will provide honest feedback without shredding your ego. Keep writing. Why else can you do? Writing the novel was the easy part, but you don't know that yet.

Step Four: Hire an editor. Whether you self- publish or seek a traditional publisher, this step is critical, particularly if like me, ‘typo’ is your middle name. This editor will point out where you spelled a character’s name two different ways, repeated dialogue and actions, forgot names of minor characters, and used the verb ‘smirk’ too many times to count.

Step Five: Title it. The title is more than just a name. A book’s title gives the reader a hint of what lies inside. A book called Love’s Eternal Promise is clearly a romance. Kafka on the Shore begs for a reader who has read Kafka. In Game of Thrones you know kings and queens are involved.

I like a title that isn't too obvious, yet also not obscure. (Poets can get by with obscure titles, but fiction readers like the book slightly unmasked.) Shadow of the Wind conveys mystery, On the Road, and Gulliver’s Travels let you know the characters are not sitting still for long, Pride and Prejudice provides hints to the book’s major themes, and The Last Song emits clues this book will be sad. Catcher in the Rye is a weird title, and though you don't learn two thirds through the book why it’s called that, the phrase rolls off the tongue. Salinger could have called it Holden’s Weird Adventure in Dropping Out, but that reveals too much plot, and somehow weakens the book.

My novel takes place during summer, and the eighteen year old protagonist has a car he calls the Blue Whale, and I considered calling it Summer of the Blue Whale, but that sounded too juvenile and chirpy. (My snarky editor friend suggested I call it A Whole Lot of Smirking Going on).
My working title was Pagoda because initially my boy has a fake ID that names him Michael Pagoda. Later this is changed to Michael Neruda after the word ‘pagoda’ did not make sense to the plot or character. After many sleepless nights, I decided on Breakfast with Neruda. Why? You’ll have to read the book for the answer….

Now that you have named your masterpiece, you move on to Step Six: publication. (Success at self-publishing requires aggressive marketing skills, and since you’d rather write, we will stick with traditional publishing.) This step involves A) researching agents in Writer’s Market, or other online sources. Make a list of agents, and B) start sending out queries. Almost every novelist I know hates this part of the writing saga. I’d rather write another novel. Or get a root canal.

What is a query? It’s where you shrink that 70,000 plus word manuscript to no more than two paragraphs, share your publishing history or related qualifications, and hint your “brand.” You need to appear friendly without being obsequious, confident without being haughty. Most importantly, your words reveal you can write well. http://laura-moe.blogspot.com/2013/07/query-letters-how-to-get-and-agent-to.html 
Six C): Many agents require a synopsis along with query. Take your 250-500 page manuscript and shrink it to two to ten pages, depending on each agent’s preferences.

Six D) Agents and editors claim they want something new and unique, but if you scan the shelves in the bookstore or library in the fiction section, most of what is published is derivative of what has previously sold. Or we’ve just published a book with a similar theme, or a similar setting, etc. I read a great piece today that addresses this issue.http://lithub.com/we-need-diverse-diverse-books/

Step Seven. A) You will get rejected, possibly more than 100 times. Most will either send you a generic rejection, or not even respond. The best rejections will tell you specific reasons why they said no. some will even supply you with names of agents they know who might like your work. These are rare, but golden people who have nice notes and smiley faces next to their names in my database.  Rejections can help you make improvement

Seven B) Prepare to get weird feedback. I attended a conference in Seattle on marketing your work that included “pitch sessions. .http://laura-moe.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-pitches-at-pnwa-2013.html A couple of agents asked to see my manuscript. Neither represented me,) one agent I pitched to told me, “If you rewrite it and give him a superpower I’ll take a look at it.”

Step Eight. After about a hundred no thank yous, Start doubting yourself, and think maybe FBW was right; you suck. Your friends and family think you’re brilliant, so they have to say nice things about your work. But you want strangers to be honest. You reread the good rejections and confirm your work has merit; it just wasn't something they felt passionate about. Submitting work is like dating; agents and editors have to fall in love. Even though your submission package is dressed to the nines, your hair is freshly cut and you’re wearing your best cologne, if the chemistry isn’t there, he or she will not call you. You rename your email inbox the Daily Rejection.

Step Nine At this point you have two options: quit writing and be normal, or keep trying. But seriously, can a trapezoid like you squash yourself inside a square box?

You have exhausted the list of agents out there who are looking for your type of work. One day you’re reading an online trade journal and come across an article about a publishing house looking for contemporary realistic YA that describes your tale. This house also accepts un-agented materials. You sigh, and think, well why not? You send them a query along with the first 25 pages and a two page synopsis.

Step Ten: The acquisitions editor likes your manuscript, but asks you to rewrite two chapters before she will consider it. You suspected there was a flaw in your book, and this editor nailed he problem. You rewrite and resubmit a couple of weeks later, and a short time later an offer is made. Your work is done, right?


Ha! Writing the novel was the easy part. The work is just beginning.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Just Call Me MoeGyver



There are many advantages to living alone. I can leave a big mess and nobody will bark at me to clean it up, or I’m not picking up after anyone else. I can watch my own shows or listen to my choice of music. When I feel the need for company I go out with friends. Unless I lock myself out of my condo.

When I lived in Zanesville several of my friends had keys to my place, as I often locked myself out until I had a house with a garage. I usually kept the door from the kitchen to the garage unlocked. Even so, my front door key was on the same key ring as my car key.

Sine moving here I’ve been locked out twice. The first time was when I did a load of laundry. I set the clothes in for washing and walked back to my apartment. Walked up the steps, pulled out my key ring, and all that hung there was my car key and the laundry room key. WTF? I know I had to have had the key to lock my door in the first place, so I retraced my steps to and from the laundry area, and luckily found my key on the ground.

I bought a new key chain/ so far so good. Today, though, my keys would not have helped me.

I had just come home from Office Dept after buying file folders. I noticed Henry was enthralled with a bug on the floor. On closer inspection I saw it was a bumble bee. Bees are growing scarcer, so in order to save it, I let it crawl inside a trash can and took it out to the patio. On reflex I pulled the screen door closed behind me. The bee flew off, and when I turned around to go back inside, the screen door was locked from the inside.

I had no keys, no phone. Nothing. Just me on the second floor patio. Henry sat on the other side of the door, looking at me as if to say why are you still out there? Pablo was asleep under the bed. I had to pee and it was almost lunch time.

Screen doors aren’t well constructed. How hard can it be to break in? Harder than I thought. I tugged, pulled, beat the latch. Nothing. This baby was well made. I thought if I had a Phillips head screw driver I could unscrew the latch, but the only items on my porch are a few plants, my tub mat, and a wash cloth.


What would McGyver do? I looked at my jewelry: a medical ID bracelet and several cheap bangles. I used the ID portion of the bracelet to unscrew the two little screws holding the outside handle on. It came off, but the inside latch still held. Sigh.

But that gave me a small space between the frame and latch to insert something. I bent one of my bangles to form a hook and worked in in until I finally popped the lock. “I’m a cat burglar now,” I said to my cat. Henry walked away and curled up on the couch, relieved to know the hand that feeds him isn't stuck on the patio.

My B&E tools....