Agent Monday: Writers Should Learn from Liars

 

Gregory Frost 1Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Writers are liars! And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Writers are pretenders, and are in the business of making things up for a living. Not coincidentally, I met today’s poster, our client Gregory Frost, through a group we both belong to called The Liars Club. Greg is not only a phenomenal author, but also a top fiction professor at Swarthmore. So he’s obviously one heck of a liar himself.  Now he’s sharing with us what we writers can gain by studying the art of the lie.

 

Good Writers are Consummate Liars

by Gregory Frost

Lately, I’ve been thinking and reading a lot in preparation for leading the upcoming spring semester Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College. I almost always spend the months leading up to it reading a new crop of short stories across the spectrum, and thinking about how I might approach the Workshop this time that would be different from the last time I led it. Such questions have made me, among other things, a collector of books on writing, which includes everything from Stephen King’s down-to-earth and often-cited On Writing to Samuel R. Delany’s terrific and sometimes head-spinning essays collected in his About Writing.

One thing the plethora of “how to” books reveals is that you can pretty much unpack the act of writing any way you like, teach the elements in whatever order you prefer, and still at the end have delivered a comprehensive overview of writing fiction. Because nobody writes the way fiction writing is broken out for a series of successive lectures or for chapters in most writing texts. We don’t write once through focused solely on Character, and then once focused Narrative Structure, and then once focused on Voice. (Okay, we’re all different in our approaches, so maybe there is someone who does that, but I can’t imagine it working.) What I do find, and believe, is that those “how to” books are most useful to us at the point of revising and editing our work. We do potentially read through our 2nd or 3rd draft just for voice, just for character portrayal, and so on. We read it once out loud to ensure we don’t have any hidden rhyme schemes that have inadvertently turned us into Dr. Seuss. In effect, then, the rules and recommendations laid out in many writing books are helpful to you once you have written a draft, but less so during the first-time-through conjuring.

There’s one out-of-print book by Michael Kardos, called The Art and Craft of Fiction, that I like in particular for his approach to tackling this very issue. Kardos’s emphasis on fiction writing (before you get to all those rules and observations of the modular aspects) is on detail. He says “When we lie, we know instinctively to supply details because the details lend credibility to our story.” Right. Good liars, con artists, and teenagers caught sneaking in late from the party they definitely did not go to, know that detail is everything.

The first day of class, Kardos tells his students that if they are to learn “just one thing” about writing during the semester, it should be “Relevant Detail.” If they learn only two things, the second thing should be “Relevant Detail.” The third thing . . . and down the line.

As he puts it, if he says “animal,” you might think “giraffe” while he meant “dog.” And while “dog is better than “animal,” it’s not half as good as “golden retriever” for lighting an image in the reader’s head, which he pushes further with a “golden retriever with a dry nose and a meek bark like it was asking for a raise it knew it didn’t deserve.” (Yes, you can get carried away with this.)

However, the more specific and solid the details in most instances, the better.

33590_2694Good writers have taught themselves this because they want you to believe their lies. We are after all liars. We lie for a living.

The late John O’Hara is quoted as saying: “Detail has to be handled with care. For instance when you are describing a man’s clothing, you must get everything right, especially the wrong thing.”

If, as can be said, the beginning of every story is in effect that “Things are not as they seem,” then that piece of advice seems to me absolutely critical. The wrong thing can tell you volumes about a character while simultaneously eliminating a full page of cold expository oatmeal.

So if there’s one thing you should learn from this post, it’s . . . yeah, you already know.

***

Gregory Frost’s latest books are TAIN and REMSCELA, comprising a retelling of the Ulster Cycle of Irish Mythology. And his newly completed gothic historical, Dark House, is an engrossing tale about a cursed and haunted White House, and about the brave slaves who risk all to battle a mysterious evil. Frost’s many titles have received starred reviews, and he has been nominated for top prizes including the Stoker, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Nebula. His duology Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet (Ballantine-Del Rey) was a finalist for the James Tiptree Award, was named one of the four best fantasies of the year by the American Library Association, and received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, the latter dubbing Shadowbridge “… a sparkling gem of mythic invention and wonder.” Currently, Frost is director of the Fiction Writing Workshop at Swarthmore College.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Oh the Horror!

MP900309567Happy Agent Monday everyone!  I know – it’s been a while…  I’ve been traveling a ton for conferences and been on so many planes and through so many time zones it’s a wonder  my eyesballs aren’t spinning in my head. Which leads me to today’s subject: HORROR! Hey, it’s Halloween week, right? And Halloween is one of my very favorite times of the year. I love a good fright. But I don’t represent horror, and yet…in some ways I do.  Let me explain..

Drawn-ebook cover final Jan 12Here’s the thing – I LOVE a good ghost story. Truly. The kind that make you shiver and wonder or perhaps feel heartsick, the kind that are steeped in a sense of history or folklore. My own YA novel DRAWN taps into that, adding a dimension of timeless longing and injustice. I also adore well-drawn characters – so important to me.

What I don’t want to see? Gratuitous violence or gore. No thank you. Yeah, I love Halloween, but for me the shivers has nothing to do with psychos wielding chainsaws. God I hate when they wreck a good haunted house with blood-soaked rooms. #notforme

So that’s how I say “no horror” yet I represent awesome author Gregory Frost who is working on a novel about a haunted White House in the 1800s. Yup, there are some touches of horror in that novel for sure, but the book is all about the characters and the time, plus the writing is beyond gorgeous. And that’s how I represent Jim Kristofic, whose short story horror collection is beyond creepy, BUT is steeped in Native American lore and awesome writing and NOT all about blood and guts. There’s more of a psychological thing going on. And it’s how I fell for my client Tracey Baptiste’s THE JUMBIES, which is a middle grade horror set in the Caribbean, and features monsters that snatch children. That one is elegant and heartfelt and folkloric, and very much set in a time and place.

So bloody horror? Nope. If your book were made into a movie, would it be a slasher film? Then please don’t send it my way. But spooky and even terrifying lit that is elegantly written and has strong characterization? Yup. Ghosts. Meaning. Not just cheap scares. That’s the distinction. That will get me interested.

And now, for your Halloween reading pleasure, here are three client books now available that are perfect for a spooky evening read:

TTTCoverTURKEY TRICK OR TREAT, a fun new picture book written by Wendy Silvano and illustrated by Lee Harper (Two Lions). This one is hilarious and the illustrations will draw you in! Check it out by clicking here. (Also, a Scholastic Book Club title.)

jumbies500_THE JUMBIES, highly praised spooky middle grade novel by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers). This creepy Caribbean tale will have you looking over your shoulder and snuggling deeper under the covers. Full of fun and feisty kids that best the beasts! Find out more here. (And available now through Scholastic Book Clubs.)

Harvest Party cover 300 B dpi 9-14-15HARVEST PARTY! This fun picture book is written by Jennifer O’Connell and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Scholastic Cartwheel). It’s a perfect fall read for the little ones in your family who love to laugh. (Can be purchased now through Scholastic Book Clubs.)

Happy Halloween! And send me some treats…

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

Agent Monday: April Showers Bring…Client News

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  April is BUSY, and lots of things have been happening. For me, this month is packed with travel and book pitching and the Writer’s Digest Sell Your Children’s Book Webinar (starting today), in addition to the day-to-day goings on of being an agent. My clients have been very busy too! For today’s post, I thought I’d share some of their recent good news here…

Jumbies cover smallHappy Book Birthday!

Tracey Baptiste’s middle grade novel THE JUMBIES (Algonquin Books FYR) will celebrate its book birthday on April 28th! Caribbean island lore melds with adventure and touches of horror in this tale about Corinne La Mer, a girl who on All Hallow’s Eve accidentally draws a monstrous jumbie out of the forest, sparking a very personal war that only she can stop. Also, Tracey’s book is featured in this month’s ESSENCE magazine, which called THE JUMBIES “an endlessly addictive and hypnotic new read.”

 

Award Winner!Eliza Bing jkt

Congratulations to Carmella Van Vleet, whose debut middle grade ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) has just been awarded The Christopher Award. The award recognizes writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Carmella’s novel is about Eliza, who has ADHD, and a history of not following up on things. Eliza needs to muster up all the determination and inner strength she has to prove to herself and her parents that she can finish a martial arts class. Carmella will accept her award this May in NYC, along with this year’s other recipients. Among this year’s award winners are the creators of the movie Selma, producers of 48 Hours, and authors Henry Winkler (AKA the “Fonz”) and Lin Oliver for their children’s novel Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (Grosset and Dunlap).

 

mh cover final054A Top Title!

M.P. Barker’s historical YA novel MENDING HORSES (Holiday House) was just named a 2015 Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth. Booklist called MENDING HORSES “A skillful evocation of race, class, and gender in nineteenth-century New England.“ The novel is about three outcasts – an Irish orphan, a roving peddler, and a child fleeing an abusive father – who mend each other’s broken lives as they heal a circus’s mistreated horses. Barker’s novel is also 2015 Banks Street College of Education “Best Children’s Book,” a 2014 Kirkus Prize nominee, and a 2014 VOYA “Top Shelf” title.

 

Gregory Frost 1In Asimov’s Magazine!

Gregory Frost’s short story ““Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters — H’ard and Andy Are Come to Town!” co-authored with Michael Swanwick, is in the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Greg recently appeared with Swanwick and other authors from that issue at a packed Q&A session at Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia, an event I was excited to attend! Greg’s novelette “No Others are Genuine,” which appeared in an earlier issue of Asimov’s was recently honored as a 2014 finalist for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award.

Congratulations to them all!

 

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

 

Agent Monday: So What DO you Want?

Women Window ShoppingHappy Agent Monday! Just spent the last three weeks pitching out a ton of great client manuscripts. It’s a thrill to see these projects, which began as queries, at last sent out into the world for editors to consider. And now I’m able to turn more attention to my query inbox, which is pretty full. So today I thought I’d talk a little more about the types of things I do and don’t want.

Every editor and every agent, just like every reader, has personal things she’s interested in and things that are just never ever right for her. It’s a lot like shopping – there’s no one size or style that fits all. It’s hard for writers to know everything about an agent before subbing, but knowing some things may help you zero in on the right person to send to. That’s why the first stop should always be the agent’s submission guidelines. These can sometimes be a little general, but do pay attention to what an agent definitely does not want so you can put your efforts in the right direction when you query.

I also really recommend that you at least Google that agent to see if there are any recent interviews or write ups that may clue you in on their interests and how those might have changed. Not all agency sites are up-to-the-minute up-to-date, so that’ll help you fill in any gaps.

Now, as for me? I definitely am NOT the person for you to sub to if: you write category romance, your book is loaded with violence/gore/gag-inducing stuff, you write non-fiction, poetry, short stories. I am also not interested right now in straight up paranormal romance, dystopian, steam-punk, zombies, werewolves, that sort of thing. Just not for me. Also not at all interested in erotica.  I’ve put this info out there before, yet my inbox is loaded up with this stuff anyways. No matter how you dress it up, I promise you I will not be requesting to see the full of your paranormal romance featuring a hot erotic werewolf who slices the heads off his beloveds. PLEASE don’t send me that one!

What am I looking for? Novels: middle grade, YA, adult. Memoir that is important and moving and eloquently written. I like contemporary novels, historical, character-driven and voice driven. I love to laugh like crazy, and bawl my eyes out too, but first I have to care about the characters. I’m not the right agent for genre-based page turners that are all action and plot. I’m also not right for novels in verse.

What about fantasy? Don’t send me high fantasy. Do I like magic? Yes, IF original. Anything with a whiff of fan-fiction or that’s derivative is just not right for me. Across the board, if I can say oh, this is just like HUNGER GAMES (or any other book or movie out there) only the main character is (fill in the blank with something slightly different) – then your project is not going to be original enough to hold my interest.

Ghosts? I do like a ghost story – the sort that is full of longing and atmosphere (check out my novel DRAWN and you’ll see what I mean), but I HATE ghost stories that are all about gore and blood and slasher-like stuff. I hope you see the difference.

I don’t rep romance, but what about plots with a romantic bent? Yup. Love as part of a character-driven non-genre plot, whether it is YA or adult, is great – but it shouldn’t be all there is in the book. Something you should know about me? I love chick-flicks, but Nicolas Sparks makes me barf.  When it comes to women’s fiction, I’d LOVE to find the next great funny and wise woman’s novel that can spin into the next hilarious yet moving chick-flick film. SEND ME THAT! But what I get instead are imitations of what’s already out there. It’s all Bridget Jones and Shopaholic, etc. No been there done that stuff, please.

And I’ve gone on record as saying that I do not rep science fiction. Yet I rep the science fiction/fantasy master Gregory Frost. What??? Greg writes character driven exceptional fiction that crosses boundaries between a number of speculative genres, and he’s masterful (did I mention that?). So, unless you are masterful and transcend that genre, please do not send me your space odyssey. I will glaze over.

Finally, there has been a big shift in my recent guidelines (our agency website is undergoing a change, so it’s not quite up-to-date yet on this).  I now DO represent picture books, BUT (and it’s a big but, I cannot lie) only from established picture book authors with a track record in picture books at traditional houses. I will also take submissions from folks I personally request pbs from at conferences, or on reference from either a publisher or a client. Other than that, it’s a no go. I can’t open my inbox for pbs beyond this.  What sort of picture books do I like and not like? They must be fresh and original. Hilarious or lovely. Important in some way. Non-fiction picture books are a possibility if they are story-based vs. all facts.  What don’t I like? Books that seem to go nowhere, feel forced or too familiar, and rhyming texts are usually not successful.

I’m also now taking on illustrators. Not as an artist’s agent (meaning I’m not the one to get you into galleries, etc.), but as an agent who will rep you to publishers. For this, also, I’m only open to established book illustrators or those who I either meet and request from at a conference, or who are referred to me from a publisher or a client.

Cheerful Young Woman with Shopping BagsI hope this gives you an idea of whether or not a manuscript you have is right to send my way or not. And, just because it’s not right for me, doesn’t mean there won’t be another agent who is all about that gory page turning novel in verse.

Happy manuscript shopping!

 

*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 Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

Award Nominations!

Author_Profile_pic_WinkelhakeSo excited to announce that my client, awesome author Stephanie Winkelhake has just again been selected as a finalist in the prestigious RWA Golden Hearts competition! Her manuscript CARMA ALWAYS is a riveting YA thriller with a scifi twist – about a girl who is cloned and brought back to solve her original’s murder and save the life of the boy she loves, no matter what version she is. A futuristic Romeo and Juliet.

Gregory Frost 1In other great awards news, my client, amazing author Gregory Frost has recently been nominated as a finalist for the esteemed HWA’s 2013 Stoker Award for his excellent story “No Others Are Genuine,” which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Congrats to them both!

Liar Liar Audiobook…and an embarassing trailer to go with!

“They’re real, and they’re spectacular,” lies author Kelly Simmons.  Click on the video link below and you’ll see members of the Liars Club, including myself, tell a range of shocking whoppers.  And you’ll find out why I won the award for “best facial expressions.” Yikes!

The video is our bizarre version of a book trailer for our new audio version of our short story anthology LIAR LIAR (Blackstone Audio), which has just been released TODAY. Yeah, fitting to have a LIAR LIAR book release on April Fool’s Day, no?

In the anthology is my story “What I Did…,” along with stories by Simmons, Merry Jones, Jon McGoran, Jonathan Maberry, Don Lafferty, Gregory Frost, Keith Strunk, Solomon Jones, Keith DeCandido, Dennis Tafoya, Stephen Susco, Chuck Wendig, Ed Pettit and William Lashner. If you love audio and you lie, then you need this…honest!

Check out more details about the audio book by clicking here. So happy to say that a portion of all proceeds from sales of LIAR LIAR are donated by my group the Liars Club to literacy causes.

Hope you enjoy the trailer below…

Publishing Revolution: Liars Club Authors Telling Some Truths