Agent Monday: Inspiration – Follow Your Goosebumps

Flying birdsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Today, as we move from bleak January through chilly February, it’s a perfect time for some inspiration.  I’m so pleased to feature here a guest post by my client, the extremely talented Harmony Verna.  Harmony’s manuscript FROM ROOTS TO WINGS caught my eye the moment I started reading it.  Her writing is luminescent. So vivid. And her characters grab you with their reality and their longing and heart.  FROM ROOTS TO WINGS is a sweeping and passionate adult historical novel set in turn-of-the-century Australia and America. It’s about a boy and girl orphaned in the harsh Australian desert. They form a young innocent love, but must take separate harrowing journeys in their own search for home and for each other. This manuscript was a final round selection for the James Jones First Novel Contest.

And here Harmony shares with us her insight about inspiration:



Guest post by Harmony Verna

As writers, we sift through an infinite jumble of words, sorting and arranging them like puzzle pieces until they sit just right and tell our story. At times, these words will soar, fly to the moon, and at others, fall flat to Earth with a thud. So what makes the difference? Inspiration.

For me, goosebumps have always been a barometer of inspiration. When I can FEEL a character’s surprise or pain or elation to the point that it raises the hairs on my arms, I know I’ve nailed it. It’s the same way a certain song can enter your very pores, or a soft, scented breeze can warm from the inside out, or an act of kindness can break your heart with its purity – it becomes a visceral experience. Your body becomes like an incandescent bulb cranked up from a dimmer switch, bright and open to creative energy. Anytime you can transfer that level of feeling through the written word, that is inspiration.

But let’s face facts, it’s easy to be open to the flow of inspiration when a sunset branches across a quiet evening sky or when we have time to stare at ripples dancing upon a lake. That’s all great until reality smashes in and wrecks that lovely scene – an unexpected bill comes in the mailbox, the kids are home sick for a week, the laundry is piling up and gosh darn it, we’re out of coffee! But c’est la vie, writers. It’s up to us to pull inspiration into life even when life seems to be kicking and screaming against it.


Earnest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” What makes a sentence true? When you can feel the words radiate from under your skin, down to the marrow. When dialogue becomes so real that it enters and converses in your dreams until you ask the voices politely to stop; when you enter a landscape or time or place so fully that when the phone rings, it takes a moment to remember that you are here, writing, sitting at home; when you write words that squeeze your throat or make you giggle like a naughty child or wipe your streaming tears on your sweater. And when your story finally ends, you grieve your characters as passing friends. This is truth.


As wordsmiths we cling to vocabulary, espousing our bag of fancy words when in fact, sometimes the simplest words pack the most punch. Look up the word “old” in the thesaurus and you’ll have a ball field of synonyms to use. But like a sundae piled with too many toppings, it might look appetizing but you can’t taste the ice cream anymore. There can be a certain power to simple sentences, simple thoughts – “He was an old man. A man with old teeth, old breath and lingering old smells.” Say what it IS first. You can always elaborate later.

Don’t self edit…yet

It’s easy to judge the words that get put down first. Are they perfect? Are they smart?  Maybe or maybe not. All that matters is that they’re REAL. We all have an urge to self-edit, but tell that voice to hush. Let the words come out easily, accept them without criticism. And don’t worry, the day for editing will come. Let me rephrase that, the days and months and sometimes years of editing will come. Enjoy those first words, the freshness of them. Then later, you can plant around them, knowing that your first seedlings are pure.

Ban the ego

Daisies on whiteNothing kills inspiration like a pesky beast called the ego, a creative leech that attaches itself to your writing and sucks the life out of it, leaving the words hollow and depleted of soul. How do you know if the ego has snuck into your creation? When your focus is on how good and smart and lush the words are rather than the smell, taste and feel of the words; when you’re more concerned about getting on Oprah than getting behind the computer keyboard. Anytime you feel the need to stand out or to impress – that is ego.  And how do you know if your writing is free of ego? You KNOW! It sits right in the gut. There’s an internal sigh and half-smile that’s calm and says…that’s it. I got it. You know.

You got this

Your story wants to be born into this world. It’s all there, already written, already changing lives and inspiring people. You are the vehicle for this story, open yourself and ALLOW the story to unfold. When we put aside deadlines, the need for approval and the stress of writing something “perfect,” resistance is lifted and inspiration has room to enter and flourish. Then it’s just your job to ride the wave and hope your pen can keep up.

So, before you start writing, take a moment. Be still. Silence the mind chatter and focus your attention on that warm, quiet place in your chest with the calming beat. Look at the fine lines of your hands. Feel the threads of the pillow. Listen to the tick tock of the clock down the hall. Smell the subtle spice of your tea. And now…slowly…let the words of your story come into existence. Welcome them as you would a child, with open arms, with unconditional love and gratitude, and then…

Follow your goosebumps.


Harmony Verna

Harmony Verna has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing, and has been involved in articles that appeared in top-tier publications across the country and guest segments on news programs including Today, CBS This Morning and Good Morning America. As a freelance writer, she has written scripts for the Food Network and articles for Modern Bride Magazine, Connecticut Woman Magazine and more. Harmony is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and she is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Best Part of Being an Agent?

Recently I did an online interview where I had to answer the question: What is the best part of being an agent?  That was an easy one to answer: Making a talented writer’s dream come true.

Writers are huge dreamers.  They dream up stories, forming tales from wisps of ideas, fragments of memories, touches of creativity. And their dreams for their future should be huge, too. Finishing that novel. Getting the right agent. Creating something an editor will feel passionate about. Seeing that novel published and set into someone’s hands. Touching a reader with their words. Perhaps even changing a reader’s life.

I’m so grateful to play a part in making those dreams happen.

IMG_0462At the start of this month, I was thrilled to meet my client Carmella Van Vleet in person.  But really, I felt like I had met her the very first time I read her wonderful middle grade manuscript ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER. The novel is about a girl with ADHD who must prove to others (and herself) that she can stick with something to the end. I found the author’s voice strong and funny and warm. I fell in love with this manuscript immediately, and connected with the writing. When Carmella and I spoke on the phone when I made “the call” to her, we connected right away, too.

So no surprise that she and I had a great time when we finally met up in New York. And for such a happy occasion. Her debut novel has been accepted for publication by Holiday House, and we got to meet the publishing staff.  Carmella and I chatted with warm and welcoming Mary Cash, the editor-in-chief, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone who works so hard to make Holiday House a high quality press.  And everywhere, there were books. Shelves and shelves and shelves of glorious titles.

Shelves and shelves of dreams come true…  Dream big, everyone. Make your own dreams happen.  And congratulations, Carmella!


Agent Monday: Writer’s Regression

Signpost of TimeHappy Monday! As an author of YA novels I, like many writers, felt my career rocked by the recession. And as an Associate Agent, I encounter many extremely talented authors who have had their careers derailed by the economic downturn and are still reeling to this day.  I feel your pain, and I am one sympathetic agent. So today I want to talk a bit about what I call the Writer’s Regression.

There are many writers who struggled to break into print at a time when everything in the publishing biz was dramatically contracting. Hard indeed. But in some ways it was even harder for those of us with debut novels in 2007-2009.

These writers worked sometimes for decades to finally land an agent and a book deal. This was the beginning of their true career as a published author!  What happened instead? Many of these writers lost their editors when jobs were cut, and that resulted in the loss of their biggest cheerleader at their publishing house. Booksellers, in their own panic over the economy, decided not to carry this particular author’s books at all.  The book didn’t receive any other push, and certainly no sizable advertising budget from the publisher. And even though a novel may have gotten awesome reviews, and perhaps even earned out its modest advance (though just barely), and even though this earning out was a feat in itself given the odds…well, the profit numbers to a cold and clinical eye may have seemed kinda, well, “eh” when stacked up to previous years.

So, though that writer was exceedingly talented, and the book was beautiful, and what happened is no fault of the author’s, that same author couldn’t interest that publisher in doing another book with them. And everyone else from agents to publishers seemed to look at that author with a jaded eye. It’s not personal, it’s just business. And the author didn’t sell big, right? So perhaps it was safer to just pass…

Okay, I’m generalizing here. Sure, there are cases where debut midlist authors did manage to land another contract with the same publisher, etc. But I must say I’ve run into many many fine writers who have found their careers stumble to a halt. For these authors, the economic recession feels like a writer’s regression.

Sure, they published a book, but since then, nothing. They feel stuck and hurt, and sad. Will they ever have that chance again to wow readers? Will big publishers ever give them another go? The writer can’t help but feel that maybe they are somehow at fault. That maybe they just aren’t good enough. If they were dropped by their agents because manuscripts just weren’t finding a home, the authors worried if any other agent would ever take them on.  As one very talented author said to me just last week, “What do I do? Do I give up my dream?”

Writers are a tenacious bunch, but even the most tenacious author will begin to lose heart when 2, 3 even 4 years go by and there is no new book contract in the works.  Well, if an author is talented and dedicated, I for one want to see their work.

I don’t believe that an economic downturn is the end of your career, and I think you need to know that it hasn’t diminished your considerable abilities one bit. It’s good sound business to recognize talent and promote that talent to the world. In my eyes, it’s the smart thing to do.

You know, when I research editors I want to pitch my clients to, I don’t even consider the deals that editor made prior to 2009. Honestly, that was a different world. The publishing biz has changed that dramatically. And I believe that looking back on the whole mess with our feet set nearly into 2013, smart editors and publishers get that too. The clever ones will parse out what happened at that time as really not about that book or that author.  And the smartest of editors and publishers and agents will see this as a great opportunity to snap up this talent floating around in the stratosphere.

Because it’s not always about the next new thing. Or that same tried and true thing over and over again. It’s about talent and voice.

So don’t give up on your dream. Please believe in your words. Step back into your writing world and hold your head high. Move forward.

Your lucky readers are waiting. Me too.

For my submission guidelines, click here.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.