Closet Doors Where Monsters Dwell

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Once upon a time I frequently used the analogy that little monsters that get tucked away into a closet only get bigger and meaner the next time they’re able to break free and spill out across the floor.

Of course I was talking about personal emotional baggage and the importance of facing things and dealing with them…but it makes me wonder if this analogy works in the macroscopic view too… I speak of the horrible things that seem to happen more often within our country. And if the answer would be yes, like one might assume, what would be the fix? Is there one? A feasible one?

I would consider that in the personal cosmos among the thousand-some ‘me’s’ that each person holds within themselves…for what are we than walking contradictions… AND if one would be able to get passed the self-destructive ‘me’s’ to the me’s which hold a pervasive sense of self-interest, one might choose to find a solution. Granted, it might not always be correct at first but a course that is started can be amended and tweaked.

We name our personal monsters as we battle ourselves and come up with our action plan or we shove the beasties once again into the closet and hope they go away…(they don’t) but we choose. We choose.

But this macroscope…with millions of other people with whom we have no control over…and a growing divisiveness of what it means to even be counted as human …let alone the plethora of issues….what do we do? Honestly, what can one person do?

How do we deal with these growing closet monsters? How do we find the common ground to give/admit these monsters’ names and reduce their growth? How do we keep them from splintering us further as they grow.

Unbelievably, as I stare out into the vast chaos of the unknowable I keep hearing the phrase:

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Which of course could tip this little essay into a sketch of “the monster… um… ‘Sauron’ can be defeated by all of us singing Kumbaya at the top of our lungs while every 11th person played taps on their left big toenail and all the little children dance AND at the same time the big bad ring will be tossed into the volcano.” But the foundation of this inane gibberwash IS these little monsters beg to be named. They beg to be identified, to be admitted, because ONLY then can we create a do-able action plan.

But what are their names? Is it safe to speak their true names? Is it safe not to?

We’ve our not-so-little monsters trolling our towns and cities laughing and multiplying because we give them conflicting upside-down and sideways names and feed them our disgust and our surrender.

We point fingers at each other and gnash our teeth and tuck ourselves away behind doorways where monsters used to hide.

…and I think they’re too big to shove back in the closet.

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When Nightmares Change

The world is full of interesting and miraculous mysteries…from astronomy and earth sciences to quantum physics and more.  That which was viewed as magic from centuries past now have a scientific name but perhaps the most mysterious of all is what happens within the human psyche, cultural awareness and the dance of social norms to the single seed of human consciousness. And with that last journey…I can fathom a guess of what others experience based on my own experiences and empathy but one is truly only a would-be expert within their own personal landscape.  And of course, many ignore that landscape. It’s finding yourself…losing yourself…and being too busy to contemplate belly lint. 

However, I’ll hazard the telling of my own journey…a little corner within my realm of existence…and it lays within the remembered dreams of my consciousness.  Many have asked what are dreams…  Perhaps little windows to view the  underworkings of who a person is? 

My story starts with the nightmares I had as a child … of being terrified of the Bogeyman/demons chasing me… into something else, I believe may be worse. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have nightmares of the Bogeyman(men)/demon(s) chasing them. I have had those dreams almost  continually since I was a child and I’ve tried many ways to protect myself from 1) waking from a deep sleep before they reached me to 2) waking during my elementary school days singing ‘Yes, Jesus loves me’ to 3) finding my hands in the middle of a dream and pressing them together to take control of my dreams to … 4) well, too many to count. 

I can say the last demon to attack me in the dream world grabbed me behind my cracked bathroom door. It was in the hallway of my house. Well, in the dreamworld…in my house. It was a horrid slime-covered tentacled hand and the grip was tight. I knew if I pulled back… Retreat, at times, can be the worst thing someone can do. I barely took a moment to look at the alien rippled muscles or acknowledge the pressure bruising my wrist. Instead, I growled at it. I growled so viciously that it carried over into the waking world and I rushed it with a wild cry of  ‘how dare you’ erupting from my very being. 

But I don’t know how the match would have concluded. I was shaken awake because I was growling in my sleep. 

Since then I find teases of an upcoming attack, glimpses of the bogeyman/demon from the corners of dreams but no attack comes. Which is fine…. but

But now I find myself in spaces that the Bogeyman/demons had/have visited. I find horrific scenes of severed body parts and decapitated heads arranged in artistic collages. 

I suppose I have overcome one nightmare trope by facing my fear and holding ground but the thing has morphed into, I think something worse, and I’m not sure what to do about this one. 

As I digress I can say that as a child of six years I came across my grandmother’s head (in a dream) laying in the backyard grass so many nights in a row. It was terrible but what scared me most was when her eyes opened and she started to talk. Never heard her words of presumable wisdom because I’d wake in a cold sweat each time. Sometimes I wonder what message she would have given…had it even been her. She was yet alive then…in the real world. 

These other decapitated heads…and other parts. They come from those I do not know. There is no last moment of life within them. I’m not scared of the carnage before me. But what am I? I stand ready to do battle but there is no one to fight. I stand at this horrific aftermath. I am emotionally numb. And I am seeking to do what? What action can be taken? I have no answer. 

And then, of course, when I do awake I think what can I harvest from these images for my manuscripts and wonder if this isn’t to much for YA…  

I suppose this story is in its middle and I am waiting for the next volume to open. But for this one, I’m still mulling its contents.  

Meet 2016 Keynote Robert Liparulo

Interview I did for 2016 GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference. Original can be seen at  the GLVWG conference blog

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Hi Robert,

We are thrilled to have you join us as our keynote speaker for this year’s Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group “Write Stuff” conference along with teaching “From Mind to Manuscript: The Making of Your Masterpiece” and “Thrillers and Mysteries: How Knowing the Difference Will Help You Write a Great Story” for the pre-conference workshops.


Would you mind giving a teaser of what you’ll be covering during the preconference workshops and your keynote speech?


Robert Liparulo
: First, I’m excited to be a small part of this conference. I’ve never attended, but have run into people who have and have loved it, all the learning and networking—oops, I mean socializing.

My full-day workshop will be a nuts-and-bolts analysis of what it takes to take your story idea from your head to a published book, in the hands of readers. A lot of books and seminars offer a sort of recipe or step-by-step guide to getting published, but really, it doesn’t work that way. If it did, everyone who’d read one of these books or attended one of these seminars would be published.

Storytelling in a way that involves the publishing industry is an art—way too subjective for cookie-cutter recipes—and everyone attempting it is unique, with his or her own set of skills and motivations and styles and hang-ups and frustrations and moments of brilliance and . . . you get the idea. My workshop will approach the process of writing and getting published—as well as what comes after—with this practical, real-word writing-as-art (i.e., subjective), writer-as-artist (i.e., unique) perspective. Forget the books, forget step-by-step; here’s what it’s like to really do it, in the heat of the battle, what they don’t tell you. I don’t like lectures—they’re boring and the topics of writing and publishing are way too expansive and complicated for one person standing at a podium to address all the issues meaningful to attendees. So while my workshops will have a semblance of structure, and I’ll have important points to address, I’m counting on the attendees to let me know what’s important to them about a specific subject, to make our time time very interactive and meaningful—conversations rather than presentations.

Based on other interviews I’ve read, I understand you started writing poems and then short stories as a kid before you moved into journalism. Could you tell us a little bit about your initial writing adventures?

Robert Liparulo: I was in third grade when I realized I wanted to be a writer—I don’t really know why, and I didn’t know at the time what kind of writer. In fifth grade, I wrote an article about an experimental jet flying across the Atlantic and stopping in the Azores islands, where I lived. My teacher sent it to a magazine, without telling them my age. A few months later, I received the magazine with my published article and a check. I was pretty much hooked on writing articles from that point on.

When I was 12, I read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. For about half the book, the main character, Robert Neville, tries to get a sick dog inside his home. When he finally does, he spends the night taking care of it. Stroking the dog’s head, he recalls the way things used to be. We come to realize that the dog wasn’t just a dog; it was symbolic of life as it had once been and would never be again: family picnics, movies, relative peace and calm. The last line of the chapter was something like, “In the morning the dog was dead.” I started crying, and I thought, “If words—only WORDS!—can make a pretty tough 12-year-old boy cry, I want to do that.” For years I went around telling people what I wanted to do when I grew up was to make 12-year-old boys cry. (I’ve received emails from both boys and girls who said Frenzy, the sixth Dreamhouse Kings book, made them cry—I had to laugh that I’d finally fulfilled that goal.)

Starting when I was a teenager, I wrote for magazines like Inc., Highlights for Children, New Man Magazine, a lot of entertainment and trade publications. Eventually, with the prodding of my family and some writer friends, I started writing novels.

What advantages and/or disadvantages, if any, have you experienced by first being a journalist and then a novelist?  


Robert Liparulo
: For a long time, I thought, “What am I doing? My true love is fiction; I’m wasting all this time writing nonfiction.” But then, when I started writing novels, I realized how much of what I learned as a journalist translated extremely well to fiction writing, and made me a much better fiction writer than I would have been without that background. Journalism taught me how to research deeply: how to interview people, how to overcome the fear of reaching out to experts, regardless of their fame or expertise or position; it taught me how to find really cool tidbits hidden deep in archival vaults, gems which have not yet made it onto the Internet, but add levels of richness and authority to my fiction. Journalism taught me the importance of brevity and how to achieve vivid descriptions in few words, how to hit deadlines, and write authentic dialog . . . this list goes on and on. I’m convinced now that no writing—whether it be personal letters or software manuals or screenplays—is ever wasted.

With over 1,000 articles under your belt, I understand you were able to interview some of the big names in the publishing world and the music industry. What would you say are some of the most memorable interviews you’ve done? Did you have a favorite? Any interviews stick out that wasn’t from someone with a big name?  

Robert Liparulo
: I have so many stories about my days as a journalist, I probably should write a memoir. From interviewing Peter Cetera, of the rock group Chicago, which ended up with my accidently stranded onstage—between the drummers!—as the band played through an entire concert; to interviewing Bruce Springsteen when I was a teenager. He kept delaying the interview, which puzzled me, until he said, “Are we waiting for your father?”

The authors I interviewed collectively had an enormous impact on me in that they made me see them as human, not as demigods with supernatural powers to tell stories. I’ve always been a reader, and I held authors in such high esteem, I thought, “Surely, there’s something magical about these high-level storytellers; I could never do that.” Meeting many of my novelist-heroes—as pleasant as many of them were—showed me their humanity, that they were ordinary people who dreamed big and worked hard—things I could do!

The author most responsible for my finally biting the bullet and driving me to write my first novel is someone whose name I can’t reveal (he specifically asked to remain anonymous); suffice to say he’s a bestselling novelist with a household name. He found out that I actually wanted to write novels and started calling me every month to ask, “Have you started yet?” After about a year, I started Comes a Horseman just so I could finally say, “Yes! I’ve started!”

Ted Dekker and I were friends before either of us had started writing novels. When he published his first books and was starting to get some heat, I interviewed him for New Man Magazine. Despite having been friends for some time, that interview revealed a side of him I hadn’t known, mostly the way his mind works through stories, piecing them together like big jigsaw puzzles, and the business side of writing, which he grasped better than any other author I’d ever met (to my knowledge). His insights helped me tremendously in completing my first novel and launching my brand.


I understand you like to work 12-16 hours (or more) during the day when writing. What got you into immersion writing? What do you like best about it? How do you juggle work and family…and also just curious…do your characters pop into your dreams at night? 


Robert Liparulo
: I’m not sure what got me into immersion writing, just that it made the most sense to me, to be so into my characters and my story that everything else fades away. That’s the way I want readers to experience my stories. I’ve always thought, “Stories that don’t keep the writer up at night, won’t keep readers up at night.” The only way for me to achieve that state of immersion is through long hours in that fictional world.

Juggling long work hours and family is not easy. It takes a toll. I try to break away for dinner and tucking in the kids, but I’m only half-there. My kids grew up with it, so they naturally accepted my “writing state.” My solution was to set whole days aside just for the family; then they had all of me.

My characters don’t so much “pop” into my dreams, as my dreams are my characters’ dreams. I get so into my characters, I become them, I eat what they would eat, walk like them, talk like them, dream their dreams. I know, weird. When I was writing the Dreamhouse Kings series, I became my main protagonist, a twelve-year-old boy named David. I played soccer with my son and his friends, watched kids’ movies, ordered from the kids’ menu. I’ve spoken to hundreds of schools and always get twelve-year-olds telling me how deeply they related to David. So I guess it worked.


I understand several of your books are in various stages of development for the big screen, including the first book you’ve written and your young adult books ‘Dreamhouse Kings.’ Anything you can share with us?


Robert Liparulo
: Hollywood is a unique beast. Lots of ups and downs. Everything revolves around financing, which comes and goes. Even studio executives at the highest levels can no longer simply “make it happen.” Second to that is trying to reconcile differing creative visions. The producer who bought the rights to Comes a Horseman, Mace Neufeld, who made all of Tom Clancy’s movies, apparently spent millions developing scripts, which never satisfied him; he’s a brilliant visionary and filmmaker, so I trust his opinion. But for now, the project’s in limbo. With some of the movie adaptations, I have the contracts to write the screenplays myself, along with a couple originals, both of which come with their own obstacles and headaches. This is the kind of stuff I’ll address in my session on working with Hollywood.


What inspired you to write for both adults and young adults? Does your audience affect how you present the story? Why or why not?


Robert Liparulo
: I was happily cruising along writing thrillers for adults when my publisher called to ask if I’d ever thought of writing for young adults. I think what got him thinking about it was, in part, my novel Germ had struck a chord among younger readers, mostly high-schoolers. I immediately thought of the Dreamhouse Kings story, which stemmed from a series of dreams I had when I was eleven. It felt like a story for young adults, middle-schoolers. I jumped at the opportunity, and the series became my best-selling books to date.

I knew from the start that I didn’t want to “write down” to a younger readership. I knew from my own kids and talking to many young readers that they are a lot smarter than many writers, many adults, give them credit for. And nothing drives them crazier than writing that’s dumbed down. So I decided to write the Dreamhouse Kings the way I would write an adult story, with two exceptions: one, my protagonists would be young, so readers could relate to them; and two, I wanted a topic I felt would be more interesting than the high-tech shoot-em-ups I was used to writing. The Dreamhouse Kings, which is a spooky time-traveling adventure, fit that bill perfectly.


So….do you have a usual go-to to get the creative juices working if and when you’re stuck?


Robert Liparulo
: What inspires me most is excellent art. Doesn’t matter what form it takes—literature, film, music, paintings, statues; anything that’s done extremely well (to my mind). I have a few go-to movie soundtracks (Last of the Mohicans, anything by Clint Mansell, for example), movies (Lord of the Rings, Jaws, Memento), literature (a piece about hell by James Joyce, any Elmore Leonard or Cormac McCarthy novel) that get me in the mood to write the best I can. I keep a coffee table book with the works of Michelangelo on my desk. Not that I’ll ever achieve such excellence, but I can try.


What would you say has been the best piece of writing advice you received? Also, what writing advice do you tend to give others?


Robert Liparulo
: Neil Gaiman told me the best advice for any writer: “Finish things.” Too many writers start a story, only to abandon it for whatever reason—they get bored with it, or get stuck, or get sidetracked by a story they like better or think would be more attractive to publishers. Finish everything you start, even if only for practice. That’s the type of writer publishers want, ones who finish. Know your story well enough to know it’s something you want to see to its completion, or don’t even start it.
Besides that, I tell new writers to trust themselves, their instincts. We are a generation raised on story. It’s in songs, commercials, games; we know story—its structure, what works, what doesn’t. Run with that, write your story without constantly analyzing and critiquing/criticizing it. Trust your abilities to tell a story, go for it.

The right research can add incredible depth to a story. What is your favorite way to research and what would you say has been the most interesting thing you’ve researched to date? What kind of writing project was it for? 

Robert Liparulo: I always interview experts. They will tell you things you can’t find anywhere else, and you can ask follow-up questions that flesh-out the topic in ways that help you develop an authoritative voice in your story. I start with people on the periphery of the topic and ask them to whom I should speak next, which usually leads to someone a little closer to the heart of what I want to know, to a better expert. I think of research as concentric circles; I’m always moving closer and closer to the center.

I’ve researched so many fascinating topics—gene splicing and designer viruses for Germ, satellite laser weapons for Deadfall, electronically-enhanced soldiers for Deadlock, exoskeletons for The Judgment Stone, wolf-dogs trained to incapacitate targets for Comes a Horseman—it’s difficult to pick the most interesting. Probably the most interesting result of some research came when I was looking into a society of people preparing for—with the intention of helping—the antichrist when he appears. This was for Comes a Horseman. I’d been interviewing experts, largely people with religious affiliations, who’d been tracking these people, keeping an eye on them. I was getting closer and closer to experts who truly knew meaningful facts about them and their activities, when I received a call at about three in the morning. An electronically modified voice said, “Stop looking for us.” Just that. Well, I didn’t want to find my dog nailed to the front door and I already had a lot of useful information, so I stopped. But I did work into the novel the things I had discovered about them—including using the electronic voice-changer over the phone.


Last question for now, what’s something no one has asked you in an interview but you wished they had?


Robert Liparulo
: Ooh, I’ve given a lot of interviews and most interviewers try to throw in something unique, so I’ve been pitched some doozies, including what’s my favorite ice cream (chocolate-peanut butter) and, believe it or not, “whitey tighties or boxers?” (“boxer briefs” seemed like a safe answer). (Your questions, by the way, have been refreshingly specific and knowledgeable—thank you!) Contrary to my ramblings here and elsewhere, I’m a pretty private person, so I don’t think there’s anything I’ve been dying to say. But I will tell you about the question that most caught me off-guard. The interviewer was especially insightful and had found something about me I didn’t know was even out there. He said, “You write unusually emotional scenes, very powerful and realistic, involving people dying or seriously injured. When you write them, are you tapping into what you felt when your sister died in a car accident?” This was a live radio interview, and I paused . . . and paused, then stuttered out something unintelligible. But the guy (however uncouth he may have been) was onto something I had never thought about. For the record, I had never consciously recalled those feelings while writing, but I realized then that subconsciously I most likely had drawn on those awful feelings.
Sorry to end the conversation on a downer, but there it is. And isn’t that what writing is all about, baring our souls?


Thank you again, Robert!  

Robert Liparulo: Thank you! Looking forward to the conference!
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Former journalist Robert Liparulo is the best-selling author of the thrillers Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, Deadlock, and The 13th Tribe, as well as The Dreamhouse Kings, an action-adventure series for young adults. He contributed a short story to James Patterson’s Thriller, and an essay about Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner.

He is currently working on the sequel to The 13th Tribe, as well writing an original screenplay with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive).

When not writing, Liparulo loves to read, watch (and analyze) movies, scuba dive, swim, hike, and travel. He lives in Monument, Colorado, with his family.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines and is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing cadet and marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

HEY! Change your attitude. 

Yeah? Just how much of a difference does that make? Well, I’d say it’s extremely key. 
  As a writer I get to do a whole lot of creating unsolvable dilemnas for my poor mistreated characters and figuring out how to let them “muck” through whatever problem/crisis/tragedy until they discover the impossible solution. It’s interesting to note that, in my humble opinion, many fiction books have their protagonists find a solution only after they shift their paradigm and find that “outside of the box” idea. Even more interesting? You see it in real life as well. By changing one’s paradigm, your way of thinking, basically having an attitude adjustment things tend to change. So why is that? And does it have any reason why we are hard-wired for story? (Yeah writer…  double team things) 

Earlier today I posted on my Facebook wall: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

“Is ALL well in the world? No, like many there’s people I’m worried about and/or situational irritants abounding. It’s a small pocket of truth teaching a small child that yes there are things you cannot control and all you can do is send your prayers up BUT that which you do have control, do the very best you can. And that philosophy will serve you all of your days. 

I just need to boil that philosophy down to a quick one-liner for the list.”

Why did I write that? Suffice to say that I worry about those near and dear to me but I can’t always do anything about it. For someone who likes to be in control, it’s a bit torturous but tying myself in knots wasn’t doing anyone any good. Least of all myself. Yes, I can use the feelings of frustration, inadequacy, guilt, regret, sorrow, anger, etc. and transfer them over to my poor sobs in my manuscript and emotionally deepen the story but when I’m not writing then what? [Yes, Kathryn, I’m a storyteller because things happen…]

I fence…or dance…or take a walk…  I read this article recently for how to deal with upsets with an ADHD kid and first suggestion was to take a walk and talk because it’s near impossible to stay upset when you are in motion. My reaction was what? But say you are walking down the sidewalk on your cell phone and your friend gives you bad news. What do you do? You stop. Guess we are hard-wired for certain things.  

But I say we are hard-wired to change too. Why? We change our reality every day. And yes, some of it is merely by our actions. Repeat with me “I am the architect of my own fate.” True to a degree but there is more.  

Going a little deeper our subconscious mind has a great reality changer. It uses this cool tool called a reticular activating device. Yes, pretty RAD. (ha-ha) It’s that RAD that grabs your attention to whatever it is you’re focused on. Think being in a crowded room and hearing your name being called and frequently being able to identify the caller before you look up. How did you hear it over all the commotion? Your brain is on high-alert for certain things. So all those coincidences? Maybe they are not so coincidental. It could be your RAD sifting through the whatever terabyte of information your brain is bombarded with and brings your attention to your pet project, your new goal or even a sucky attitude that everything blows. 

Backing up a little … Thinking about how much stuff the human brain ignores and I’d wager our outside stimuli realities aren’t even the same. You and I could be at the exact same place and the exact same time and experience two separate things. And even if we experience the same catalyst our emotional/mental/spiritual difference may easily impact us or not in totally different ways. 

It gets better. Did you know your memories of an event aren’t from the event itself but more on what it was the last time you remembered it. Again we change our personal reality as time marches on. Granted it’s usually little by little but the thing is our reality is pretty fluid.   

Even our “beyond ourselves…outside our own heads” reality is kind of wonky, particularly if you look at basic quantum physics with its wave-partical duality (how about that for an oxymorin). Anything and everything is possible until the time an observer locks everything into one place, one reality purely by observing.  

http://youtu.be/DfPeprQ7oGc  

And not that you need to know this but every time I think of that it makes me think perhaps we have more control than we know and maybe magic and science are two sides of a coin…and it’s a very thin coin.    
But skipping back to one more physicality thought… How we are “wired” impacts reality. Take a rare condition of Syneshesia as an example. This cross-wire of senses causes people to experience things like hearing a color or tasting a number. I imagine that would be a strange way to experience reality and one that would be hard to describe.

And that gets me to stories. Studies have shown that experiencing a reality is more than just living it. You can gain many benefits of the same experience simply by story. Perhaps we are hard-wired for stories because we, on some level, yearn to have others “get” us and/or yearn to understand others. Take it one step further and perhaps stories are a way to experience a common reality, a shared one that we all know…. like one of our cultural shared foundations found in fairytales.  

A nice little ramble yes? Well I’m working on my reality right now and shaking all the pieces into place… I think. 

To loosely tie everything up… all that make-believe as children, the imagination, the infinite possibilities? All that helps. By having an open mind which is more resilient, less crystalized, more able to find those impossible solutions, you get your own personal doorway to a happier reality. So if someone says change your attitude, that might be the best advice you’ll ever get but as always it’s up to you to do it. Oh, and you have the ability to change reality, or at least your own. 

What do you think?

 

Meet Gabriela Pereira, Creative Director and Instigator of DIY MFA

Reposted from GLVWG conference blog

by Tammy Burke
gabriela3 headshot
Welcome! It is so exciting having you as one of our presenters for this year’s “Write Stuff” conference. It’s always intriguing meeting someone like you who thinks “outside the box” and what a fascinating concept creating the DIY MBA for other writers is.

I suppose the first question I’d like to ask is if you can tell us a little bit about DIY MFA. In your words what exactly is it? What was its inspiration? Where do you see it going or evolving? Greatest joys…greatest challenges?

Gabriela Pereira: DIY MFA is the do-it-yourself alternative to a traditional MFA in writing. This was an idea that came to me as I was sitting in graduation to receive my own MFA in Writing. I was reflecting on the amazing experience I had had in the MFA program, but I knew many other writers were not so fortunate and couldn’t get an MFA, despite being very serious about their writing. How could I help these writers get some of the benefits of an MFA if they couldn’t go to school, I wondered. This idea stuck with me and I ended up writing a post on my small personal writing blog about a do-it-yourself concept for an MFA. The response was HUGE. People started coming out of the woodwork left and right and leaving comments. This told me that I was definitely onto something with the idea so after testing the idea some more, I put that personal blog on hiatus and started blogging full time at DIYMFA.com. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you have a favorite technique you share with serious writers?

Gabriela Pereira: I’m a big fan of setting limits in our writing. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when you set limits or add constraints, you actually become more creative. Having endless possibilities in front of us is a great way to kill our own creativity because to keep options open we end up never committing to one direction. The minute we close a door on one possibility, we’re committing to walking through another door, instead of standing at the threshold wondering which way to go.

Whenever a writer is stuck in that endless-option limbo, I recommend doing a quick creativity reboot, using one of the tools at the DIY MFA site. It’s called the Writer Igniter and it’s like a slot machine for writers. When you hit the “shuffle” button, it gives you a character, situation, prop and setting to help you start your story. This app was inspired by those flip books for kids where you mix and match the heads, bodies and feet of different animals to make different combinations. I reworked the concept for writing and the Writer Igniter is now on of my go-to tools whenever I’m stuck on an idea.

The reason it works is that the prompt is specific enough to force writers to pick a direction and run with it. At the same time, the prompts are open-ended too, so they allow for endless different stories that can grow out of the same combination. Just don’t get caught in the trap of hitting “shuffle” over and over until you get a prompt you like. I allow my students only one do-over and then they have to write.

I love the idea of the Oracle (Outrageous, Ridiculous And Crazy Literary Exercises) as your writer’s toolbox. The name and idea just seems whimsical and non-intimidating. It seems like adding that element of fun while learning or working is a natural strength for you. Can you tell us a bit about the Oracle? How you came up with it? Maybe an example of how it’s helped you.

Gabriela Pereira: Once upon a time, before I was full-time running DIY MFA, I taught writing courses throughout New York City. For those courses, I needed to have writing prompts, ideas and other treasures at the ready to help get my students excited and writing. Since my background is actually in design—I was a toy designer in a past life (yes, it was awesome, no it was nothing like the movie Big)—I love using unconventional tools to inspire people. I found this old wooden chest in my parents’ house and started storing all my creativity tools in it. The name ORACLE is tongue-in-cheek, of course, because the exercises are hardly the nectar and ambrosia of the gods, but just silly activities that I’ve collected over time.

I see the term instigator used to describe you…would you mind telling us a little bit how you got that moniker?

Gabriela Pereira: Ah, yes… my title. I made it up. Personally, I find titles kind of ridiculous. Like when a tiny start-up consists of the CEO, CFO, CTO and everyone is a c-level executive… who exactly do these so-called chiefs manage? It’s all rather silly. With DIY MFA I thought I’d poke fun at the whole title thing, because honestly, the people who matter know that I’m the head trouble-maker in charge. And since the whole point of DIY MFA is to turn the traditional MFA system on its head, “Instigator” sounded like a good fit.

I have to admit I am curious …one of the workshops you designed “Smell this Story, Eat this Poem” was selected by 826 National to be included in a lesson plan anthology “Don’t Forget to Write.” Could you tell us a little bit about it and how did you come up with such a cool name?

Gabriela Pereira: “Smell this Story, Eat this Poem” was one of my favorite workshops to teach. It’s a five-week course with each week focusing on one of the five senses and using it as a springboard to write poems or short pieces of flash fiction. Originally this workshop was called “Writing Through the Senses” and I used it to teach adults, but when I got the chance to teach it at 826NYC (a wonderful writing organization in Brooklyn) the program suggested changing the name to make it more fun for kids. Teaching this workshop at 826 was a blast and perhaps among the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a writing teacher.

I’m a firm believer that writing teachers MUST take writers seriously and challenge them to their highest ability, whether they are in first grade or in a graduate MFA seminar, whether they are 6 or 86 years old. This is the philosophy that I embrace with my own students. That elementary school kids were able to discuss the sophisticated poems from this workshop syllabus and create their own stories and poetry to boot is testament to how well this philosophy works. When the class concluded, the folks at 826 National selected it to include in their lesson plan anthology. This was a huge honor for me because it was real validation of my teaching techniques and philosophy, but after the amazing five weeks working with the students in the class, the publication was really just the icing on the cake.

Speaking of workshops, could you give us a little teaser on what you’ll be covering in the two workshops “Creating a Stronger Outline for a Stronger Story” and “The Seven Steps to Stronger Middle Grade and YA Novels” which you will be teaching at the conference?

Gabriela Pereira: The outline workshop is all about creative approaches to outlining and ways to use planning techniques and tools so that you can make your story the best it can be. I myself am not a huge fan of outlines—at least not the traditional techniques we’re taught in grade school. Instead, I’m a much bigger fan of visual techniques that help me get a handle on my story at a glance. In this workshop I’ll also share my “secret sauce” outline formula and explain how in writing 3+2=1. And at the end, I’ll discuss what to do with an outline once you have one.

The Seven Steps workshop is among my favorites to teach because I get to geek out over Middle Grade and YA. As a writer in the MFA program I wrote primarily MG, with some YA woven in for a change of pace, so my first true love in literature was writing for young people. The Seven Steps workshop walks writers through the step-by-step process you need o get a story out of a rut and back up and running. While this workshop uses examples from children’s books, really any writer who needs to give a story a fresh start will benefit from this session

As someone who writes Middle Grade and YA what would you say is most important to impact the young reader? Do you think it’s different than with adult genres?

Gabriela Pereira: I think it’s a fallacy that writing for kids and adults is somehow different. Sure, there may be a few limitations in terms of content (you wouldn’t want an explicit scene in a middle grade novel) but the core elements of story are always the same. Stories always boil down to character and plot. If you have an amazing character that readers want to root for, and if the plot and story make sense and build up the right way, that’s all that really matters. The fundamentals of story are universal, no matter who the reader is, or what genre you may write.

Also, I’d like to add that young readers are much less willing to put up with writerly BS than an adult would be. While an adult reader might stick with a story through the boring parts because they feel they “should” finish it, kids are WAY too smart for that and they won’t put up with this sort of nonsense. This means, if you can write for kids and teens, you can probably write for anybody. That’s why I believe writing children’s books is among the noblest arts, and I think most writers should try their hand at it at some point in their lives because they will be better writers for it.

And last question… anything new on the horizon for you?

Gabriela Pereira: Yes! I just signed a few months ago with Writer’s Digest Books to turn DIY MFA into a full-length book. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. Now I’m deep in the throes of writing the manuscript. All fun things.

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As an FYI, Gabriela just did a podcast episode called the “Writing Conference Survival Guide” and gave us a shout out. Below is the link if you’d like to check it out:
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Gabriela Pereira is the Creative Director and Instigator of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She creates tools and techniques to help writers get the benefits of an MFA program without going to school. Gabriela earned her MFA from The New School and has taught both online and at national and international conferences. When she’s not teaching or working on DIY MFA, she enjoys writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few “short stories for grown-ups” thrown in for good measure. To learn more about Gabriela and DIY MFA, visit DIYMFA.com.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Alexander Slater, Literary Agent from Trident Media Group

Reposted from GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference blog

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Alex,

We are thrilled to welcome you to this year’s GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” conference which is in its 22nd year. Your expertise both internationally and domestically makes you such a wonderful addition to our conference faculty.

Alexander Slater: Thank you! It’s an honor to be here.

So… Can you tell us what your favorite thing about being an agent is? What is your least favorite thing?

Alexander Slater: My favorite thing about being an agent is being blown away by outstanding fiction that millions of people deserve to read but haven’t yet. I truly can’t think of a least favorite thing.

How would you describe your ideal relationship between an author and yourself? What are your expectations? And what “sparks” you most when working on a project?

Alexander Slater: My ideal relationship would be one with an author who respects my time as much as I respect hers. I look for clients who are hardworking, creative, and willing to fight for their work as much as I am. I want authors who have something to say in a new and amazing away, writers who have faith, and writers who can teach me something I did not expect. What sparks me most is usually a story that insists I keep turning the pages, and language that makes my mind crackle. I am continually surprised by how many writers there are, so I’m looking for a partner who knows why her voice deserves to contribute.

Any pet peeves?

Alexander Slater: I do not seek relationships that are one sided, or that prohibit free and open communication. I’m looking to expand and promote an author’s business, and having the space and trust to do so is essential.

What elements would you say are necessary to give a book and its characters a chance to rise above the rest and be well-remembered by its readers? Do you remember what YOUR first memorable story was and why?

Alexander Slater: It seems like every book is a miracle – so many things have to go right for something to make it to publication. The elements that permit this are constantly changing; trends, style, etc., come and go, but the elements that remain necessary, to me, are truth and heart. If a book has characters that feel alive, it will be remembered and cared about. If the story connects with a reader on deep level it will stick with us. The story has to keep the reader turning the pages, not because there’s a cliffhanger in every chapter, but because the author is making us feel less alone.

How would you explain the key differences between middle grade and young adult fiction?

Alexander Slater: Age. Everything other than that falls into other sub genres, for example, dark middle grade, and “clean teen” young adult fiction.

It seems it’s not just kids reading middle grade and young adult for enjoyment. What are your thoughts about what draws such a broad readership?

Alexander Slater: I think reminiscing has a lot to do with it – escapism into the often more dramatic and formative years perhaps. I think it’s fun to read middle grade and YA, and it might be as simple as that. However, the arguments that these books aren’t or can’t be morally complex feel way too dismissive to me. We can learn a lot from all types of stories.

Out of curiosity, can you share one fly-on-the-wall item about what it’s like attending such a leading international event like Bologna’s Children Book Fair?

Alexander Slater: You feel like you’re in a hive of passion. I would sit in the Agents Centre and have conversation after conversation about contemporary literature, and what can be more thrilling than that?

I don’t know if you ever get the time but what do you like to read if you’re reading for enjoyment only?

Alexander Slater: I do try to carve out the time, and when I do it’s usually crime fiction, or southern gothic fiction, or narrative nonfiction like the work of Jon Krakauer.

And finally…what advice would you give for an aspiring writer? What about one looking for representation?

Alexander Slater: I would tell an aspiring writer to write every day. Understand the importance of community, and share your work often. If you’re looking for representation, do your research and seek out the best fit for you. And then keep writing.

Thank you again, Alex! We look forward to seeing you soon.

Alexander Slater: Thank you!
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Alexander Slater joined Trident Media Group in 2010. After two years as an assistant, he spent two years as an agent representing the entire agency’s Middle Grade and Young Adult titles in the Foreign Market, attending the books fairs in Bologna, London, and Frankfurt. Alex is now building his list domestically, while keeping his focus on these areas. He has sold rights and worked such prestigious authors as R.J. Palacio, Louis Sachar, L.J. Smith, and many others.

Currently, I’m looking for Middle Grade and Young Adult projects, specifically those with original, strong, and diverse voices. I like books that work within a contemporary realistic setting and have an edge to them, with darker or dangerous themes. I have been saying recently I’m looking for Coen Brothers-esque fiction. That being said, I am also on the lookout for contemporary romance and coming-of-age in the style of Jenny Han or Rainbow Rowell. Also, cross-over appeal is ideal, since the best children’s books are rarely written for an audience of a specific age.
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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Patricia Nelson from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

reposted from GLVWG conference blog

by Tammy Burke

http://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/Resources/Pictures/Patricia_Nelson_MLLA%20headshot.jpg

I want to thank you for taking time out for this interview. With your background in literature along with your experience in the publishing world our conferees are certainly getting a well-informed resource with you. It is my delight to welcome  you aboard to our 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference.

Patricia Nelson: Thanks so much for having me!

I was wondering, in your opinion, how much does talent play into good writing and how much is it a learned skill that anyone can pick up?

Patricia Nelson:  The myth of the solitary genius who sits down at his or her computer and writes the Great American Novel by sheer instinct is just that–a myth! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick up the skills to write a publishable book. In my view, writing is like any other craft: a person develops their talent by putting in a whole lot of time. In this case, that means reading and writing as much as possible. Maybe (probably!) your first book won’t land you an agent or a book deal, but if you write another book, and another–reading widely and working with a critique group for the whole process–chances are good that eventually your skills will grow and you’ll be able to produce writing at a level that you couldn’t when you were starting out.

I know you probably get this question often but what was your inspiration to become an agent? Was it always something you wanted to do?

​Patricia Nelson:  I always knew that I wanted to work with books in some capacity. When I was in high school I imagined that I would be an editor. Instead, after college I ended up going to graduate school, and for a time pursued a career as an English professor. There were aspects of teaching college students that I loved: helping talented people develop their writing, championing creative thinking, and figuring out what individual students needed and giving them the support system to grow and take risks. But ultimately, after getting the chance to teach many amazing, life-changing books, I realized that I really wanted a career on the other side of the literary world, where I could have a role in helping great books get made. As soon as I discovered agenting, I knew it would be a perfect fit for me.

What would be your ideal working relationship with someone you’ve either signed on or would like to sign on? Could you give an example of what that person could expect from you and what your expectations would be.

Patricia Nelson:  I look for clients who are professional and dedicated to pursuing writing as a career – talented people who work hard and are persistent and goal-oriented. Because I want to partner with writers for the long-term, not just one book, I’m looking for people who have lots of ideas and who are in it for the long-haul as well. I aim to bring that same professionalism and commitment to my relationship with clients – I’m in frequent communication with them and work together with them at every step of the process, from revision, to submission and sale, to developing next projects, etc.

Do you have any pet peeves when someone is querying or pitching? On the other hand, do you have things that tend to impress?

Patricia Nelson:  I’m always impressed with a concise query that gives me a sense of character, plot and stakes in a few short paragraphs–and even better if you can infuse it with voice that makes me excited to dive into the sample pages! I’m also a big fan of queries that include comparisons to a few recent published books, which helps me know what kind of tone to expect and where you imagine yourself fitting in the current market.

On the flip side, my pet peeves include: comparing your book to runaway bestsellers like HARRY POTTER (to assume that kind of success reveals unrealistic expectations); saying your book “will make a great movie” (I’m more interested in it making a great book); genre categorizations that suggest a lack of basic understanding of the market, e.g. “I’ve written a realistic sci fi-fantasy young adult/middle grade romance novel with crossover appeal” (hard for me to know how I would pitch that project). I also have an acute and irrational hatred for the redundant phrase “fiction novel” (just say “novel”!)… but that one certainly wouldn’t be a big deal if I otherwise loved the sound of the story! 😉

More stories about different cultures and lifestyles, I believe, are important and beneficial to society on many levels — two of the top reasons being the opportunity for greater understanding and, well, more stories! I am curious though…what would you say makes for an exciting story in multicultural and  LGBTQ fiction? Would you say this fiction requires something more than only having a minority protagonist and/or other characters? 

Patricia Nelson: Great question! Part of what I’m looking for with any novel is specificity – characters that are so well-rounded and layered that they feel like real people. Well, real people are diverse, in all sorts of ways: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, body type, family background, social class, etc. So I want to see that portrayed honestly and authentically in the books that I represent. When I say that I’m looking for diverse books, I mean that I’m actively looking for novels where a character’s “diverse” identity is a part of the story insofar as it shapes who they are as a person. But just like race or sexuality is only part of a person’s story in real life, I’m looking for that complexity in novels as well. I am explicitly looking for diverse characters who populate all kinds of unique and captivating plots in all genres that I represent.

What would you predict for this market in 2015 and what would you like to see?

Patricia Nelson: Every genre right now is a tough market–when you look on the shelf, keep in mind that every single book there got published because numerous people in the industry along the way loved it ​ and couldn’t imagine it not being out there in the world. With that in mind, when I’m reading queries and submissions I’m really just hoping to find books that bowl me over with how amazing they are. Books with fresh voices, unique premises, and complex characters making tough choices. Books that make me have to pause to collect myself because I’m crying, or laughing, or surprised, or curious, or even in awe of one perfect sentence. There will always be space in even the toughest market for those kinds of books, so that’s what I’m looking for.

I understand some of the other things you are looking for include upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction.  I was wondering… how would you explain the difference between literary fiction and accessible literary fiction?

Patricia Nelson:  By “accessible literary fiction” I mean novels that pair impressive writing and strong character development with a page-turning plot–books that are both masterworks of craft and the kind of stories I can’t put down. Think THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer, THE MIDDLESTEINS by Jami Attenberg, or POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt: all beautifully-written books I read obsessively and then shoved into the hands of friends. I’m not the best person to represent literary fiction in which the writing is significantly more important than the plot–although I do think those kinds of books have an important place in the literary landscape!

And last question…If you were to share one of your favorite stories as a child, what would it be and why?  Is it still a favorite? And what do you like to read now if you get to read for pleasure only?

​Patricia Nelson:  Just one childhood favorite?! That’s tough. Can I cheat and pick both a middle grade and a YA? On the middle grade side, I read Judy Blume’s JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER so many times that my copy fell apart, and looking back, it has many traits that I still love in fiction for all ages: complicated friendships, nuanced family dynamics, lots of hijinks, and a relatable, emotionally honest story. When I was a little bit older, I got completely hooked on Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS series, which is still very close to my heart: an amazing female protagonist, lots of adventure and romance, and a fantasy world you can just fall into in your mind.

As for what I read for pleasure now: all kinds of things! In addition to reading being generally my favorite thing, it’s also important for me to keep up with the current market in genres that I represent, so even much of my pleasure reading isn’t really just for pleasure. Honestly, my to-read stack regularly threatens to overtake my house.

I guess that was more than one.  Anyway, thank you again, Patricia!

Patricia Nelson:  Thank YOU for your thoughtful questions!

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Patricia Nelson is an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She started at Marsal Lyon in early 2014 as the assistant to Kevan Lyon, and has previously interned at The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency and in the children’s division at Running Press. Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.

And my wish list:

I represent adult and young adult fiction, and am actively looking to build my list. On the adult side, I’m looking especially for upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction. I’m also looking for all genres of YA, including contemporary/realistic as well mystery/thriller, horror, magical realism, light science fiction and character-driven fantasy. I’m always interested in finding exciting multicultural and LGBTQ fiction, both YA and adult. In general, I love stories with complex characters that jump off the page and thoughtfully drawn, believable relationships.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Katherine Ernst from Jasper Ridge press

reposted from the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference blog

by Tammy Burke
https://i1.wp.com/greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/Resources/Pictures/Katie_JPR_photo%20headshot.jpg
Hi Katherine,
Welcome to the 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference!  I have to say, your background with psychology, law, travel (including being on four different continents), writing and publishing is quite an intriguing and eclectic combination. It is exciting that you will be joining us.

Jasper Ridge Press has quite a catchy unofficial motto “We don’t screw authors. We pimp them.” Could you tell us a little about how your company started? What makes you stand out from other publishers?

Katherine Ernst: Heidi Tretheway and I formed JRP in 2014 because we wanted to create the small publisher that we wished we could’ve found when we were starting out. We were hearing a lot of complaints from our friends about small presses who would take their work, slap a hastily put together cover on it, barely copy edit it (never mind developmental editing), and throw it up on Amazon with no promotion. But then we’d also hear complaints from other friends with Big 5 deals that they didn’t really feel cared about and they felt like just another cog in a machine. This isn’t to impugn all other publishers, but the fact is, we saw a void in romance publishing and we sought to fill it. We wanted to form a house that would only take projects we were truly excited about and that we would put a promotional budget behind. We see publishing as a partnership between author and publisher and therefore feel that we should put as much care and effort into publishing your book as you put into writing it. Otherwise, what are we doing to deserve royalties? Because of that vision, we also decided on a 50-50 royalty split. If this were truly a partnership, then that split is only fair. (Many small presses take 80% or more.)

Your ‘Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal Their Steamiest Scenes’ is such a fantastic idea…for readers and writers alike. Could you share a little bit about this project? How it came about? Where do you see it going?  What do YOU like best about it?

Katherine Ernst: This project is actually what launched our publishing company. Heidi came up with the idea over a year ago, and we immediately knew we had to organize the project, but it took until the end of 2014 until we actually did it. I immediately loved the title and saw the potential because it’s truly a win-win-win for us, the authors, and readers. Basically authors submit 2k-5k word steamy scenes from their previously published books and if they are selected, their piece is featured in one of our collections. (The first came out in November and the forth collection comes out in March.) We pay royalties to each author in the collection and so we’re basically paying authors to promote their books. As with all of our books, each collection has its own publishing budget. Many of the authors from the first collection have already talked about a bump in sales of their full length novels because of readers of the collection reading their scene, loving it, and then buying the full novel. After the March collection comes out we’re taking a hiatus on the project in order to focus on full-length submissions, but I’m so happy we did these collections. They are *a lot* of work in terms of coordination because there are 20 authors in each collection, but we’ve gotten to know the work of so many great authors through it. Each collection features 6 New York Times bestselling authors as well as a handful of USA Today bestsellers and newer up and coming authors. We were absolutely blown away by the talent that wanted to take part in this project.

Okay, so out of curiosity…any thoughts on the dreaded euphemism during sex scenes?

Katherine Ernst:  Honestly, I don’t think it’s much of an issue anymore. One of the best things about doing Skip to the Good Part is that I’ve now read *a lot* of steamy scenes. For every scene we published (80 in total by the end of March) we rejected approximately an equal number, so you can see that that’s a lot of reading. I think there was maybe one where the author used euphemisms (as in, love rod, or quivering staff, or whatever you think of with old-school romance). It’s just not really done anymore. Half of our submissions were from books the author considered “erotica” and half were from books the author considered “romance.” I didn’t see a difference in the heat level between the two, and everyone, for the most part, was very clear in what they were describing.

If you were to give an aspiring romance writer advice, what would it be? Would the advice be different than for an aspiring non-romance writer?

Katherine Ernst:  It would definitely be different. I think the publishing world of romance is very different from the publishing world of other genres/categories and I think what you need to do to write a great romance novel is different from what you need to do to write a great book in other genres/categories. I literally could write an entire book devoted to this question (perhaps I will one day), but the best encapsulated advice I could give that would actually apply to all genres is: keep writing. I know you hear that all the time, but I am friends with many many bestselling authors. Some are self-published, some are with small presses, some are with a Big 5 publisher, many are hybrids, but the thing that unites them all is persistence. I have one friend who got a huge advance from a Big 5 publisher for the first novel she ever wrote. (Everyone’s dream, right?) It bombed. Terribly. Her hope of selling another book in New York became slim to none. But she didn’t give up. She started self publishing. She tried a couple different genres and categories. She tried different promotional strategies, but she had book after book that didn’t sell well. Eventually, after her 5th or 6th book, she finally had one that hit it big, and she’s now a New York Times bestseller. I have another friend who queried agents for 8-10 years. Wrote at least half a dozen books. Nothing. Until she finally sold her “debut” novel, and it hit it big and is now being made into a movie. I knew both of these people while they were still unpublished so I saw their persistence firsthand when they were in no way assured of success. And these are just two stories of many I could share. The vast majority of authors struggle for a long time before they “make it.” Even those with heaps of talent. So just stick with it. If you don’t like writing without the knowledge of reward, you’re in the wrong business.

Okay, contemporary romance is what you are looking but you could consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction for the right manuscript or author. Anything within this parameter that you’d like to see? Anything you definitely would not be interested in?

Katherine Ernst:  We’ll definitely consider any type of steamy romance, although paranormal et al. is definitely harder to sell than contemporary right now. But, if your book is fantastic, we want to publish it. The most important thing is: is the relationship front and center? Is your novel truly a romance novel or is it a fantasy novel with romantic elements? If it’s the former, we’re interested. If it’s the latter, then we’re not the best publisher for you. This goes for contemporary as well.

So… how would you describe (maybe an example or two) what makes a hero swoon-worthy?

Katherine Ernst:  To a certain extent this question is unanswerable because there are always going to be love interests who don’t fit an established trope but who still make your heart go pitter patter, but let me mention an element that always makes a hero compelling to the reader. There has to be sufficient push-pull between him and the heroine. What does that mean? Well, all successful stories involve tension. If your book is about two people falling in love, what is the tension there? It’s about whether they’ll get together, right? (There are a few other types of love stories, but they’re rarer, so let’s stick with this for now.) If they get together at the beginning of the book and then go on picnics and horseback rides for the rest of the story, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? So there has to be either an external or internal conflict that’s keeping them apart. Well, now it sounds like I’m just talking about the mechanics of plotting, but this is also what makes the hero swoon-worthy. Every woman is reading a romance novel because she wants to escape into a fantasy. At the beginning of the book, the girl and guy aren’t together. The hero keeps pushing the heroine away. This is necessary for tension in your story, but if done properly then it also makes the hero very attractive. How many jerks in your life seemed to like you one minute, but then pushed you away the next? It was infuriating, but you still were very attracted to him. In real life the guy probably had mommy issues and wasn’t worth your time, but in a great romance novel it turns out that the hero keeps pushing you away because…he’s a CIA operative and is trying to keep you safe! Or, he has deep-seated issues stemming from a tragic childhood that he wants to protect you from, but because of your love, he’s willing to overcome them! Or, he’s a vampire and he can’t get too close because then he might eat you! It’s what every woman’s ever wanted. The guy isn’t “not that into you”–he has a valid reason why he’s pushing you away. And actually, it’s a noble reason. He was trying to protect you all along. Swoon.

On personal note…Favorite Socrates quote?  And which continents are you missing?

Katherine Ernst: I know this is trite, but honestly my favorite Socrates quote will always be “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” I went through a phase in college where I became obsessed with ancient Greek philosophers, and Socrates was always my favorite. Of course I think I know a lot of things. (If I thought I was wrong about my beliefs, then I would change them, wouldn’t I?) But humility in life takes you a long way.

As to continents, I haven’t been to South America, Antarctica or Australia. I’d love to go to Australia next, but who ever gets off enough time to make that trek?

Thank you again, Katherine, for taking time out for this interview and I look forward to meeting you in person.

Katherine Ernst:  Ditto with you. These were great questions that forced me to say more than I intended, but I really wanted to give your readers real, non-trite answers. Cheers!
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Katherine Ernst is a successful attorney who has worked on billion-dollar cases. Five years ago she gave up the full-time practice of the law to pursue her real passion: publishing. More recently, along with her business partner Heidi Joy Tretheway, she has founded the romance publishing house Jasper Ridge Press. Their first series of books, Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal their Steamiest Scenes, have featured over 30 New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors and have produced strong sales. In her spare time she is actively involved in her local community and was recently elected committeewoman in her district. For fun, she loves board games of all types, playing pub trivia, and travelingundefinedher goal is to make it to every continent; as of now, she’s visited four.

Jasper Ridge Press only publishes steamy or erotic romance, so first and foremost I’m looking for that. I am actively looking to acquire contemporary romance, but for the right manuscript and/or author I’d be willing to consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. I’m also very LGBTQ friendly-I’d especially love a great F/F story. Here’s where editors usually tell you that they’re looking for perfect mechanics, a strong voice, and brilliant plotting. Well, of course I’m looking for that, but that doesn’t tell you a whole lot, does it? Here’s the secret to submission success that every writer is looking for (the following is assuming M/F romance, but the advice applies equally to M/M and F/F): I am looking for a hero that makes me swoon. Bestselling romances have one thing in common: they feature heroes that make readers’ hearts go pitter-patter. Everything else in your manuscript is window dressing. If I want to climb into your book and wrap my arms around your hero, you’re getting a contract even if your mechanics could use some work. Conversely, you could have the most beautiful writing in the world, but I won’t be able to offer you a contract if the romance isn’t sizzling. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Claire Anderson-Wheeler, literary agent from Regal Hoffmann & Associates

reposted from the GLVWG “Write Stuff” blog

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Claire,

It is with great delight that we welcome you to this year’s GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” conference. I must admit I love the term European Amerophile from your bio on Regal Literary Inc.’s webpage. What a well-rounded perspective that must give you having experience in “both camps” (Europe and North America).

I know you probably get this question often but what drew you to law first? When did you realize creative writing and becoming an agent was what you really wanted to do?  

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Interestingly, I think a lot of lawyer’s or legally-trained folk migrate to publishing. There are some strong shared affinities: a love of words – of their persuasive and descriptive power – and an interest in abstract ideas and problems. Also, often, a dimension of social engagement: even though the day-to-day can be quite solitary, stories are about wider society and so is law. Both are a way of engaging in a kind of dialogue, and an attempt to make that dialogue relevant. But ultimately, to me, law began to feel a bit too much of a straitjacket. In law, you have to hold back quite a lot of your personality or individuality. You have to be quite dry. Books are all about individuality.

Instead of asking you what your favorite book is I thought I’d ask if you’d share an example or two of stories which you feel changed how you saw the world.   

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I think the stories that really change your sense of the world are the stories you read as a kid. It’s amazing the windows they open. For me, I’d pick out The BFG. It was quite a philosophical journey for a 7- or 8-year old. I realised I’d never really thought about sleep before, or dreams; I’d never thought that much about how miraculous our minds were that way. I’d never thought about what it might mean to be an outcast in quite the way Roald Dahl presents it here. I’d never thought about humans as being a “bad” race: this wonderful giant does a great job of pointing out just how dangerous and far from innocent humanity can be. Heady stuff!

I have been reading more middle-grade having a second grader in my house. I was wondering what you see and/or hope to see for this genre in 2015? Also, with the increased savviness in today’s kids…any topics come to mind that might be too close to the edge? 

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I don’t tend to have very specific desiderata – it’s more a question of knowing it when I see it. But I do love books with “issues” – we tend to get them more at the older end of the children’s spectrum but there can be such marvellous issue-oriented books for the MG demographic too. And a good fantasy adventure never goes amiss. I’d quite like to see some more “sibling” adventures; I feel like a lot of the MG submissions I get have just one solitary nine year old at the heart of them, but I think that’s an age where the presence of siblings can be really important. As for “too close to the edge” – no, not really. Not much is off limits these days, if it’s sensitively handled, with a level of sophistication that’s right for the reader. For example, a MG book where an older sibling or parent is transgender – I think that could be very interesting, but it couldn’t be treated in quite the same way as it would for the older YA audience.

If an author with an ideal project sat down with you for a pitch, what could he or she say or do that would favorably grab your attention? On the other hand, what would be a big no-no?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  They’d be able to present their book succinctly, not “selling” it but “analysing” it, with a focus on what’s distinctive about it. They won’t recite to me a learned-by-rote “blurb” (In a galaxy far away, intrepid orphan Alex gets the surprise of his life when… etc)

Do you find there is a difference in European and North American readership? If yes, do you see that changing?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Not enormously. A lot of the big hits translate. I think in contemporary, realistic YA/MG, and in adult literary fiction, there tends to be less in common because these areas can have a more culturally specific focus (for example, they might tackle socio-economic issues (race, minorities, poverty, class) in a way that is more reflective of a particular culture. Also in general, I would say Americans are more attached to the idea of learning something from their fiction (learning about a historical conflict in a foreign country, for example). Europe is not necessarily so pushed about that. I don’t see those differences eroding much further. Cultures have different hot buttons and that’s natural.

What would you say is most important element in telling a compelling story that crosses over genre lines?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I’m not sure if it can be reduced to a single element! Ambition, perhaps. If you’re talking about crossing genre lines then you’re looking at something quite high-concept, but tackled in a really thorough, really thoughtful way, so that it’s telling us a story but also telling us about our world: not neglecting theme for plot.

And finally, what advice would you give to writers who are looking to get published?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  READ. Read published authors (recently published authors: it’s no good if all you read is Dickens or Twain); read your peers’ work so you can practice breaking down works in progress and analysing why they do and don’t work; and finally, read your own work. Out loud if possible. We get into habits of perspective. Re-reading helps combat that, and allows you to keep fresh.

Thank you again, Claire, for taking the time out for this interview. On a personal note, I’m hoping I get an opportunity to ask you about the Old Library and the Book of Kells at your old alma mater Trinity College in Dublin. That has to be an amazing sight!

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  You’re welcome! And I hope you do.

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Claire Anderson-Wheeler is a literary agent with Regal Hoffmann & Associates, a New York-based full-service literary agency founded in 2002. Regal Hoffmann & Associates works with a wide range of authors in different genres, representing the likes of fiction writers such as Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) and Daniel Wallace (Big Fish) and non-fiction writers such as Carl Hoffman (Savage Harvest) and James Reston Jr. (Defenders of the Faith) as well as middle grade and young adult. Claire represents writers across a broad range of fiction and non-fiction genres. Recent sales include the forthcoming debuts Mindstormer by AJ Steiger (Knopf), Cold Feet by Amy FitzHenry (Berkley) and To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible by Patrick Dacey (Holt). Claire is Irish, was born in DC, and grew up in Dublin, Brussels and Geneva.

At the moment I’m particularly looking for narrative non-fiction by writers with a strong platform (biography, memoir, or general non-fiction that puts an expert’s slant on an aspect of everyday life – think Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together). I’m also particularly keen to find some challenging middle-grade fiction. In general, I’m always interested in fresh voices that tell ambitious stories, be it in non-fiction or fiction (literary, commercial, children’s). I like to see historical fiction that leverages an unfamiliar perspective on a familiar historical character or place (Think Girl With A Pearl Earring). I’m open to science fiction and fantasy, though more of the urban than the epic kind. I am not currently looking at: romance or erotica; picture books; prescriptive non-fiction (how to); screenplays or poetry.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Cassie Hanjian from Waxman Leavell Literary Agency!

[reposted from GLVWG’s conference blog]

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Cassie,

I am so glad that you will be joining us for our 22nd annual “Write Stuff” conference. Your background — as an international literary scout, managing author rights, previous author support, and now an agent — I’m sure has given you exceptional skills in knowing what’s a good fit in the publishing world in addition to having the expertise to help an author grow. Welcome!

So the first question I would like to ask is on your bio on Waxman Leavell Literary Agency’s website you say that you “look forward to creating partnerships that prioritize building identifiable author brands.” Could you share a tidbit on some branding ideas? Also, what would be your dream manuscript and how would you describe the ideal author?

Cassie Hanjian:  For author branding, the most important thing to think about is your audience. How does your audience see you, and how easily will your audience be able to identify you in the future? I don’t have any one “dream” manuscript — although I’m currently looking for historical fiction similar to Sarah’s Key set in a period before WWII. Outside of specific plot elements, I’m looking for a good handle on plot and pacing, writing that doesn’t need to be heavily edited, and a style that is accessible to even the casual reader. To me, the ideal author is one that is not only supremely talented; they also have to be open to constructive criticism, able and willing to do a lot of leg work to market and publicize their book, respectful, and professional.

Could you share any pet peeves or significant ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to sending out a query or giving a pitch? Does it make a difference if it is for fiction or nonfiction?

Cassie Hanjian:  For both fiction and nonfiction queries, writers should take care to proofread and pay special attention to the spelling of the agent’s name and the name of the agency. Spelling my name or that of my agency incorrectly signals either apathy or a lack of attention to detail — qualities I’m definitely not looking for in an aspiring author. I view the query letter as a representation of what I’ll find in the manuscript; if there are lots of spelling/grammar errors, or if the letter is unfocused, I can only assume I’ll find more of the same in the actual sample. It’s also important to remember to succinctly describe the central idea of the book in the pitch — I need to have a clear idea of what I’m going to read before I actually take the time to do so.

Out of curiosity, when did you decide that you wanted to be involved in the publishing world? Was there a specific inspiration?

Cassie Hanjian:  (Laughs.) I decided I wanted to pursue a career in publishing when I was sixteen years old. I had an English teacher who had just moved to the area; her husband’s job forced them to relocate. She had previously worked at Houghton Mifflin as an editor in their educational division. I was an avid reader from a very young age, and when I heard that you could actually work with books for a living, I was sold. From that point on, I never thought about doing anything else.

One of the genres you represent is New Adult which seems to be trending in the publishing world. I am sure you counter misconceptions about what it is and what it is not. How do you explain the differences?

Cassie Hanjian:  Yes, there are quite a few misconceptions out there about New Adult, which I think, in large part, is due to the fact that the publishing industry has yet to come up with a standardized definition. Many people have stuck the New Adult label on a variety of things: YA Crossover, erotic romance, etc. When I try to succinctly explain New Adult, I usually compare it to YA: YA is about discovering who you are; NA is about discovering your place in the world.

What’s your take about romance in upmarket women’s fiction…necessary, nice or not needed? What do you see happening for 2015 in women’s fiction and what really grabs you?

Cassie Hanjian:  Romance is not a requisite in upmarket women’s fiction — or even commercial women’s fiction for that matter. Women’s fiction covers a wide range of issues and topics; sometimes a romantic element is integral to the story’s telling, and sometimes it’s not. Because the women’s fiction world is so varied, it’s hard to predict any one thing that will rise to the top this year, but I’m looking for family sagas with an element of mystery or suspense and emotionally wrought narratives about traumatic events or difficult life decisions.

Being a history buff and seeing you represent historical fiction I can’t resist asking…do you have a favorite time period?

Cassie Hanjian:  I love historical fiction set between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment — there is so much natural human drama in those centuries, that these stories naturally lend themselves to intricate and imaginative plots. If I had to pick one period in particular, I’d have to go with the Elizabethan period.

Anything you are definitely not looking for?

Cassie Hanjian:  I don’t represent children’s fiction or speculative fiction of any sort.

And last question…if you could give three ‘words of wisdom’ for our attendees, what comes to mind?

Cassie Hanjian:  Can I have five words? Start with an elevator pitch. Boiling your book down to one succinct sentence to start, whether in a query letter or during an in-person pitch, is often more effective than trying to explain all the intricacies of your plot, concept or thesis when you have limited space or time.

Thank you so much for taking the time out and we look forward to seeing you soon!

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Cassie Hanjian
Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an agent, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @cjhanjian

Areas of interest/representation: New Adult, commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological suspense, cozy mystery, contemporary romance, parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction focusing on food-related topics and cookbooks.
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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).