Thursday, June 28, 2012

How Not to Write a Query Letter

I work in a literary agency in Manhattan. And as an intern, a large part of my job is sifting through the slush pile. I actually love reading slush - I mean, I get to read ALL DAY as my JOB and it is kind of the best. There is also the great feeling of finding something really wonderful and hoping that your boss might like it and might offer representation.

But. Guys. So much of the slush pile is made up of people who simply have no idea how to write a query letter. My reaction to the horrible typos and weirdly structured emails and lengthy bios that leave out all semblance of plot is somewhere between mirth and pity.

I know I am probably preaching to the choir here, but even so, I intend to make a bit of a project out of "how to write query letters" (more on that later, when I can work out the logistics of said project). For now, however, I give you:

The Top Five Things Not to Do in a Query

1. Fail to include sample pages. (Seriously, guys. My agency requests the first three chapters and so many people don't send them. If the submission guidelines ask for sample pages, SEND SAMPLE PAGES. The pages, more than the query, will make me want to say yes.)

2.  Tell me more about you than about your book. (I need to know about your characters and your plot and why I should care. I don't, at this stage, need to know about your career or your background, unless you have been previously published. And even that should be short, sweet, and to the point.)

3. Spell things incorrectly and use improper grammar. (This is like walking into a job interview with ketchup on your shirt.)

4. Insult popular titles of the genre you are trying to be published in. (I have gotten more than one query explaining the failings of Harry Potter and saying that their manuscript had none of those failings. It just sounds incredibly arrogant. Also, there is a very high chance that someone who works in YA publishing will be incredibly fond of Harry Potter. Don't alienate a potential agent from the start!)

5. Call your manuscript a "fiction novel."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesday + Tags = Double Time!

I know, I know, I failed a little on the alliteration there... bear with me, I'm a writer, not a poet.

But! The lovely and talented Ari, she of the fellow-interning, Nerdfighting, and snarking characters fame, tagged me the other day, and I thought I ought to play along. :)

The Lucky 7 Meme Award Rules are as such:
1. Go to the 7th or 77th page of your work in progress.
2. Go to the 7th line of the page.
3. Copy the next 7 sentences or paragraphs. Remember, they must be as they are typed.
4. Tag 7 authors.
5. Let them know they’re it!

Now, I'm going to cheat a little and not tag people, because I'm still recovering my blog-reading habits from the Blindingly-Slow-Internet-to-Crashed-Hard-Drive-to-Lost-Bookmarks Debacle of 2012, so to be perfectly honest I'm not sure which of you fine readers to tag. (Bonus: freebie excuse to send me the link to your blog so I can add it to my bookmarks again! Go go go!)

Instead, I will give you TWO snippets, as this is both a Teaser Tuesday and a tag post. Woo!

First, a piece from page 77 of the MS that is currently riding the query-go-round, A Terror of Darkness: 

“Where have you been?” Avar snapped, still gripping her hard by the shoulders.

            Rose raised an eyebrow; he was seething at her, absolutely furious, but his eyes looked – frightened. 

            “I would not have thought you cared,” she replied quietly. 

            “You promised to help me get them out of Paris,” he said, gesturing sharply at the grate and the three other wolves who waited in the camp for them. “If you disappear, so does my only chance to escape this place. You said so yourself – you need me, I need you. Where have you been?”

            “I went to the Conciergerie-”

            “Again? Why? Rose, if you are seen there too often someone will notice-”

            “I was befriending a guard,” she told him. “I cannot get into the prison through strength of arms or stealth, so I am going to try to be invited inside.”

And next, a piece from my new wip - this one's from page 7, since I think I'm only on page 13 so far!

            “Many of those stories are merely hearsay and idle gossip, not anything upon which to base a serious field of study.”  

            “Josephine, might I trouble you for another cup of tea?” 

            Everyone except Kate jumped at the sound of Clara’s voice. Grandmamma looked especially startled; it was quite likely that it had been so long since she had heard Clara speak that she had quite forgotten her capable of it in the slightest. But when Josephine turned to Clara, her sister did not look at all perturbed by the attention she had suddenly turned upon her; on the contrary, she was smiling calmly, holding out her cup and reminding Josephine to perform her duties as hostess and fill it once more. Josephine smiled back, pressing her sister’s hand warmly as she took the cup and saucer from her. 

And hey, if you want to copy this meme and play with it on your own blog, go right ahead! Do please send me the link, as well! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Pixar's BRAVE (No Spoilers)

I don't think that I've ever reviewed a film on the blog before, but I will happily start out by reviewing a movie I saw yesterday.

It is a well-known fact that I'm a little obsessed with Disney movies. I have lots of the soundtracks, have watched Beauty and the Beast probably more times than is strictly healthy, and have more "kids' movies" than "proper adult movies" in my DVD collection. Maybe it's because I write young adult? 

Whatever the reasons for my love of animated films, I have been wanting to see Brave for over a year now, ever since my illustration-major best friend went on a trip to San Fransisco (and thus Pixar Animation Studios) last spring break and she told me that they were working on a mother-daughter story. Finally going to see it yesterday, I was a little worried that I would be disappointed, since I'd been so excited for so long.

I was not disappointed in the slightest. I laughed a lot. I cried a little (although I don't think my sister or my friend noticed, so, WIN). It was absolutely everything I could wish for in a new fairytale.

As I'm sure you've noticed from the posters and the trailer, the animation is stunning. The landscapes look almost like photographs (it made me want to go right back to Scotland) and the details are positively amazing. Angus, Merida's Clydesdale horse, moves like a real horse (which I have seen done very poorly in a lot of animation before, it's HARD) and he doesn't have the cartoonish face of earlier Disney equine companions. And Merida's hair is kind of awesome. It moves and bounces like curly hair really does; the curls aren't all uniform, like real hair - they even get it WET at one point and it still looks realistic. And the color scheme of the whole movie is great - lots of soft blues and greens that all contrast really nicely with that bright red hair. Bravo, animation team, bravo.

Of course, beautiful animation does not a good movie make (don't get me started on The Princess and the Frog. Just don't). I don't want to say too much about the story here, because I think it's quite spoil-able and I was quite happy to see the story unfold instead of knowing it ahead of time. It's a very simple story, but I don't think it needs anything more. The magic makes sense; the character relationships make sense; the plot makes sense, and it carries the action and humor very well. From the trailers, we can see that Merida is determined to do things her own way, and she decides that she is going to take charge of her own fate instead of letting tradition dictate that she be betrothed to someone she does not love when she is not ready to get married. What she does to change her fate - and then what she must do to fix her mistakes - was something that I was not necessarily expecting, but it worked out very well. All of the elements tied together very nicely.

Some other things that I liked: Merida is not a typical princess, not only in that she wants to have adventures, but in that she doesn't think "I hate being a princess, my life isn't fair!" That's not what she thinks at all - she simply wants enough freedom to make her own path in life, rather than having it chosen for her by others. She does not want to be somebody else, and that was refreshing. It was amazing to see a Disney character with a complete family - father, mother, three hilarious little brothers. And I loved - LOVED - that it was a mother-daughter story. Merida and Elinor are both incredibly strong characters, and they play off each other very well. Disney, why have you not done this before?! I know that there are a lot of doubts about the marketability of this film, but I see absolutely NO reason why this movie would not appeal to boys. There's a lot of action and adventure, there is some great magic, and a good bit of fighting. It just happens to have a female protagonist. I think this is exactly the sort of movie that will be great for bridging the gap between what people think boys want to see and what they think girls want to see.

I loved Brave, it was exactly the kind of movie I was hoping it would be. I can't wait for my aforementioned illustration-major best friend to be back in town so I can go see it again.

Have you seen Brave? Let me know what you thought of it! And if not... what are you waiting for? Go see it!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: A Shiny New Idea

So last night at about two in the morning I had this idea. And I was a good person, for once, and wrote it down instead of pretending I'd remember it in the morning so I could go back to sleep. I've been working on that idea all day, and guys, I'm pretty excited about it. I don't want to say too much in case this project fizzles out on me, but so far I like it.

The story, very tentatively titled Smoke and Mirrors (I know, it's terribly original. Perhaps the one thing that John Green and I have in common as writers is that we both find titles kind of impossible), is going to be told through at least four different points of view, the four siblings of the Marks family, and will take place in London and in Bombay (cue research!!).

Here's the opening two pages; I hope you guys like it! Please let me know what you think of it so far.


May 1878
London, England

            When Josephine Marks entered her sisters’ bedchamber, bright sunlight was streaming through both of the windows, in spite of the fact that every other window in the house displayed the typical dreary London rain. 

            “Kate,” she called, stepping through the doorframe and at once wishing she had not. 

            The room – or, at least half the room, including the half that now blocked Josephine’s path – looked rather as though it had been torn to pieces by an overeager dog or a particularly violent windstorm. Books littered the wood floors and hid the green, red and brown swirls of the Persian carpet. Clothes had been taken out from one of the tall, carved wardrobes and dumped unceremoniously onto one of the four-poster beds or thrown half-heartedly into one of the many steamer trunks crowding the room. The other four-poster, surrounded by a swath of uncluttered carpet, had things piled upon it as well, but these books were left in orderly rows, and clothes was neatly folded into an open steamer trunk at the foot of the bed. Those neat stacks were greatly in contrast with the piles of hair ribbons and sashes and bonnets that tumbled down from the bed opposite and spilt all across the floor.

            All this was strewn about, and yet there was no sign of the two sixteen year old girls who inhabited the room. 

            “Kate?” Josephine said again, stepping carefully around an atlas, opened, of course, to maps of India. “Kate, do come out from wherever it is you are hiding. Grandmamma has been wanting you this last half hour.” 

            There was still no response. Then again, Kate was well aware that an interview with Grandmamma was sure to cause more than a few fireworks. But Josephine was not about to retreat without what she had come for, so she changed tactics.


            Still stepping over the things that Kate had thrown willy-nilly about the room, Josephine looked behind an open wardrobe door and pulled aside the neatly hanging curtains around Clara’s bed, but discovered no giggling sisters. 

            “Clara, dearest, do please come out.” 

            But of course, there was no reply from the neater and nearly always silent twin. She had hoped that perhaps Clara could be prevailed upon to give up the game first, but as always, the two were steadfastly together in whatever mischief they were up to this time. 

            It was then that Josephine tripped over a boot that had been left lying on the ground. She almost fell herself, catching herself on the lid of a steamer trunk, but she could clearly hear Kate giggling from wherever it was that she was hiding. 

            “Katherine Georgiana Marks, if you do not show yourself this instant, I shall tell Mamma and you shall have to give up magic from now till Michaelmas.” 

            “Oh, Josy, do be reasonable. It was just a bit of fun.” 

            Josephine blinked, and suddenly there were two girls right in front of her, sitting cross-legged with their skirts pooled about their knees in the small empty space between the two beds. Clara, at least, had the decency to look apologetic.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Basically the Best Job Ever

Every Wednesday and Thursday since I've gotten back from London, my alarm has gone off at 7:30 am, and for a few minutes I have cowered in the warmth and comfort and dark of my bed, not really wanting to get up, because it's summertime and it's 7:30. But, nevertheless, I get up, grab some tea, get dressed, and head out to catch the 8:50 bus into New York City.

I live somewhere between half an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes away from the city, depending upon the level of traffic and the mode of transportation - the bus takes longer, because it has to pick people up. (Also, my parents dispute this, but I SWEAR we got into the city by car in half an hour.) The bus ride is usually about an hour. Sometimes I am a good person and I do some writing on the commute - because of this the handwriting in my notebook has gotten hilariously poor in the last few entries - but a lot of the time I muse over things to write or things to do instead, or simply stare out the window (or, in the case of yesterday, take a nap). I then get in to the Port Authority, a place I've decided that I have a love-hate relationship with. I love the fact that it is so easy for me to commute into the city, even though bus tickets are rather expensive. I love that it's rather centrally located and that I can walk to my internship. However, I hate the massive lines of commuters on my way home, and I hate that they put the Cinnabon right by the entrance and exit for my bus. (OH THE SMELL OF GOOEY CINNAMONY DELICIOUSNESS. HOW YOU TORTURE ME SO.)

In any case, I hurry past the Cinnabon and then start my ten-block walk down Seventh Avenue to my internship-of-awesome. I am greeted by the very friendly doorman (who finally told me his name yesterday and I am now horrified to discover that I have forgotten. Gosh, for a writer I am truly terrible at remembering people's names) and wait for the slow, cranky elevator in a lobby that is small, but must have a twelve-foot ceiling complete with painted and gilded rosettes (my own slice of London historic decoration in New York, perhaps?). But the elevator finally takes me to the twentieth floor, where I slide into an office that is much more modern looking than the lobby's ceiling might suggest.

There are three literary agencies sharing this office, which means that there are a lot of people who really love books all in one room. It also means that, unlike my internship in London, I am not the only intern! There is always one other intern working with me from my literary agency, and at least one other from one of the other agencies (sometimes I'm not really sure which one). Oftentimes there are four interns crowded around the "intern table," the table used for conferences (in which case we are relocated to abandoned offices) that sits between the door and the coffee maker. I try and sit in the chair on the short end of the table closest to the door, because that way, I can still mostly read my computer screen when the sun comes blaring into our window at about four in the afternoon. It is very nice to take a break from queries and look out over the tops of buildings to the little hint of the Hudson River I can see through the roofs, but it is rather difficult to read in such bright sunlight. (Some of the other interns bring their sunglasses for this purpose. It is kind of awesome and hilarious.)

After I arrive, I spend the next seven and a half hours reading. I read queries, I read submitted manuscripts. Reading the slush pile is actually kind of fun - there are of course a great many completely out-there queries, which make me somewhere between amused and sad, and lots that really don't have anything "wrong" with them, they're just not thrilling, which does make me feel badly (because boy have I been in that writer's shoes). There are also occasionally those shining gems of OMG WOW REQUEST THIS IMMEDIATELY, which are great. Those are the ones I get excited about, that I remember when I get home and my mom asks me what I did that day. There was one that had spot-on historical voice the other day, and I was practically flailing in my chair as I urged the agent I work for to request it.

Reading manuscripts is also basically the best thing ever. Let me remind you: I read ALL DAY LONG, and it is my JOB to do so. WINNING. I do read a lot of romance novels, since this agency represents a lot of romance writers; they might not be specifically my cup of tea, but they're by no means hateful, and I do get to tell people that I read romance novels for work, which is just fun. I really enjoy reading the manuscripts and making comments along the way. I like writing up little "edit letters" at the end of things I liked and things I'd fix (and sometimes how I'd fix them, which is really exciting). 

I also have fun with my fellow interns. They're a bunch of lovely ladies (everyone who works in this office, by the way, is female. Why am I getting the sense that the publishing industry and theatre are not all that different? :P ). Fellow-intern Ari and I frequently chuckle over malapropisms and queries that have appeared on Slush Pile Hell, discuss the weirdness of reading queries at the same time we're sending out our own, and geek out over Nerdfighteria.

But then it's six pm and it's time for me to hurry through the busy streets* and brave the long lines at Port Authority and possibly a standing-room-only bus so that I can head home for the day. And excitedly tell my family about that awesome query letter that I read.


*You think I'd be used to crowds after living in a big city for almost five months. I think that London holds some ridiculously high percentage of England's population, but honestly, you wouldn't know it unless you were on Bond Street, in Piccadilly Circus, or on the Tube at rush hour. Whereas New York (especially at rush hour) is like being in Piccadilly Circus all the time. So many people!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Telltale Signs

Good morning, blogsphere! I have another teaser for you today!

In this snippet, Maire has been sent inside to help in the kitchen after she beat up her hands working outside the day before. I hope you enjoy it - Maire is starting to be an easier character to write, now that she's got some friends (well, she wouldn't admit they were friends, but anyway) to force her into being taken care of, and into hating the world and everything in it a little bit less.


They had almost finished when Maire, who was across the room and wiping up spilt tea on a tabletop, heard Elizabeth gasp, and looked up, frowning. Elizabeth was holding up one of the last plates that Maire had stacked for her, examining something red on the edge.

“Maire, are your hands bleeding?” 

A bhidse

Maire stared across the room at Elizabeth, not moving for a moment. Then she dropped the rag she had been using and, sure enough, there were spatters of blood from the newly reopened cuts on her hands. She looked down at her cracked palms, silently cursing them for betraying her foolishness of the day before, for betraying her weakness for the second time that morning. 

“Here, let me see.” 

Elizabeth had appeared at her side, and Maire jumped, flinching away from the other girl, but she was not quick enough to escape when Elizabeth reached out and grasped her wrists. The girl’s grip was surprisingly firm, and for an instant Maire considered struggling against her, but the damage had been done. Elizabeth had seen the mess of her hands – the enormous blisters on her fingers, the torn and cracked skin of her palms, the indents her fingernails had made and the places where the cuts had reopened earlier that morning. 

“Why did you not tell me?” 

The soft concern in her voice actually made Maire look up in surprise. She sounded like Brigid. The look on Elizabeth’s face, that worried, saddened, not-quite-pitying look, was one that she had seen on her sister’s face a thousand times before, every time Maire would storm away from a fight with their mother, or would come home railing against the day’s failures, or with her knuckles skinned from another brawl over scraps. The resemblance was so striking that Maire felt like crying.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Readjustment Process

I will have been back in America for two weeks tomorrow, which, really, has been a whole jumble of exciting and strange and nice and sad and all sorts of things. 

When I got off the plane (gosh I hate planes, especially planes I am stuck on for seven and a half hours) and saw my parents waiting for me at the gate, I was thrilled to pieces. And I'm not just saying that because I know my mom reads this blog. (Hi Mom.) I was really happy to see them. At that point, I'd been staying in hostels for two weeks by myself and I was tired of either being alone or being forced to talk to strangers all the time - something I am getting better at, but certainly don't like very much. I was so excited to see my family again and get to talk to people I knew rather than people I'd just met. I of course tacklehugged both my cat when I got home and my sister when she got back from the high school band trip the next day. I was very, very glad to sleep in my own bed, with more than one pillow (oh hostels, you make me appreciate pillows so much), and with no strangers sharing the room and loudly entering and exiting at obscene hours of the morning. 

Walking back into my house was kind of surreal. I couldn't really believe that I was home - it had been five months, after all. It didn't help that there were a lot of things that were different; the kitchen is blue now, instead of the yellow it's been for as long as I can remember, and there's a new counter-top, for instance. I felt a little bit like I was floating around my house, halfway outside of my own head (which sounds a lot crazier than I mean it to sound, but that's the best way I can think to describe it). I half expected that I would wake up the next morning and be back in London, but when I didn't, I wasn't disappointed. I was glad to be home. I was glad to sleep in my own bed and have my cat and my family, to eat food that my dad made rather than £3+ triangle sandwiches, to not have to talk to strangers anymore. 

That first week back was great. I attempted to sleep a lot, although jet lag really set some odd hours for me. I lounged about. I didn't have to eat dinner by myself anymore. I started my new internship at a literary agency in New York City, which basically amounts to the best job ever: everyone in the office is so nice, and I read ALL DAY LONG. It's awesome. (I'll be putting together a list of some query do's and don'ts in future, because I am reading your queries now, haha! *maniacal laughter* ... *cough*) 

And then, last Saturday, it hit me. I'd sort of vaguely missed London before, chatting about things I'd done with people, but I was still caught up in how nice and comfortable it was to be home. Last Saturday, though, I was engrossed in a really amazing book (The Night Circus. Read it. Now.), parts of which take place in London, and I was at a family gathering, recounting some of my abroad adventures. I realized that it had been exactly one week since I'd left London, and all of a sudden I missed it so much. It was as though I'd thought, initially, that coming home was like being on vacation for a week, in typical college student fashion where I don't do much of anything and enjoy home cooked food and my mom doing my laundry. But then the week was up, I was still in New Jersey and I wouldn't be going back to London in the foreseeable future. I dreamt that I was back in London before I woke up the next morning, and this time, I was sad when I woke up and it wasn't real. 

Now, I'm not horribly depressed, don't get me wrong. I am honestly enjoying being home - I like my family a lot. I like my internship a lot (my mom was joking with me yesterday that I'm supposed to come home after commuting to work in the city and be all grumpy and tired and unhappy about life, but I always come home really happy, because my job is just that awesome). I'm finally catching up to my friends from high school. 

But I miss London. I am probably stating the obvious, but Manhattan is incredibly different. Every time I walk down the street, either in my tiny suburban town or in New York, I'm reminded of how different, how new, everything here is. The sense of history is gone. There isn't anything comparable to the beautiful Kensington row houses. If I went into a cafe and ordered a cup of tea, I'd get a cup, rather than my own teapot. All the French and Italians are still in London, not in New York. I can't hop on the tube after a five-minute walk from my doorstep. There are no Caffe Neros or Victoria and Albert Museums. The flat in Nevern Place is very, very far away, and I don't get to see my flatmates much at all. 

I miss London. I miss the atmosphere. I miss the feeling that I belonged in that city. I've lived near New York all my life, so I do get a similar tourist/not tourist feeling, but New York does not feel like it's mine the way London did. 

So far, though, being back in America isn't bad (other than the fact that going from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 is really unpleasant). I learned a lot in London - a lot about myself, about being a confident human being, about talking to strangers, about trying new things, on and on and on. I was afraid that that sense of confidence would relapse as soon as I got home, and I'd go back to being even more obviously painfully shy, the way I was pre-London. So far, though, I don't think it has. I've successfully managed to find myself a part-time job waitressing. I'm not completely hopeless when it comes to talking to my new coworkers. So, I think it's all working out for the best. I'll just have to figure out when I can get back to my second home sometime fairly soon (although not too soon, because have I mentioned how much I hate planes?). 

Now. That cat I tacklehugged when I got home is very desirous of my attention. Until next time, fair blog readers! 


Totally unrelated to just about everything, but if you haven't seen Neil Gaiman's commencement speech for the University of Arts in Philadelphia, you should go watch it right now. He tells you all sorts of important things regarding the making of art, in that wise and witty way that only Neil Gaiman can.