Villa in Tuscany

Monday, August 22, 2005

History Lesson

For the past five years, we housed a library in our front room. Upon the death of my husband's brother, Paul, his books needed a home. My husband thought we would have some use for Paul's books and brought them to our house and subsequently, filled every available wall space in our living room with books.

I love books. I love history books. But I love the human part of history, the everyday life, the simple and mundane. Paul's books are political and historical and relate to war and upheaval and the ugly side of history. Yes yes, World War II and the psyche of Hitler is important. But not to me. I don't care about Stalin or the making of the atomic bomb. I don't want to read about living in a prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam war. I could care less about the PT boats that shot at the Japanese. And so, apparently, could everyone else in my family.

After five years of seeing these books crowd my living room, fill with dust, lay fallow, be ignored and never getting read, my husband as agreed to give them away. He has agreed that they are doing no one any good by rotting in our living room. Paul would have wanted them read, and enjoyed by someone. These books are great reference materials for someone doing research about war and politics.

For the past three weeks, we have been cataloging the books with Author, Title, Dewey Decimal code and ISBN. We have filled thirteen boxes with approximately 600 books. I would guess we are about forty percent done. We are hoping a college might find some use for them.

While I have been gleeful at every book that goes into a box, it's been difficult for my husband. These books represent his brother's legacy. Paul never finished his doctoral dissertation, but he loved history and political science enough to create his library.

So as I type the names of books into an Excel spreadsheet, I have been thinking how narrow my knowledge of history has been. I really have no interest in the political side of a country. I usually skim passages in a novel that describe bills in The House of Lords or discussions in The House of Commons. I'm not about to read all those books (now) neatly packed away in boxes, but maybe I will pay closer attention to some of the poliitcal details within a novel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Writer's Journey

I fondly remember those first few days of my writing journey. The writing itself started with a children's story, typed on my mother's manual typewriter. Called "The Adventures of the Fanner's Gang," it shared the exciting escapades of an all-animal detective gang. There was Kanga, the kangaroo, and Yak, the...uh, Yak. I can't remember all the other characters, but I still have that manuscript. Each chapter was separated into a different mystery, one of them being, "The Mystery of the Va-Va-Voom!"

Years passed and I remember laying on my bed after school, reading a book, as usual. This book happened to be Rosalind Laker's The Smuggler's Bride. Rosalind Laker will always be one of my very favorite historical romance authors. She wrote the book that introduced me to romance, Tree of Gold. When I finished reading The Smuggler's Bride, a thought popped into my head: Why can't I write a book?

A dream was born. I was in the sixth grade.

I set up shop in our downstairs basement. Using an old school desk from the torn down country school down the road, my plastic table and chairs, and my mom's thesaurus, I had my new office. My first story was a historical romance (naturally) set during the French Revolution. I clacked and typed away all summer long, listening to the radio. To this day, whenever I hear one of those songs from that summer, it takes me back to those early days of innocence in the writing world, when I didn't worry about craft or getting published. I just wrote. I kept track of my progress on a lined piece of notebook paper and you know what? I still have that piece of paper.

My writing zeal began to grow. I switched from the manual typewriter to my Dad's MS-DOS computer - green letters on a black screen. I had to share my computer time with my mom since she was a newspaper reporter. There were times I lost my stories - pages and pages. Oh, the anguish! (which I just experienced again a few days ago). My writing became more and more a part of me. I'd spend hours at the computer. During the summer, while Mom and I watched our soap opera, Guiding Light, I'd clack away during commercials.

In the seventh grade, our English class started a section on creative writing. I had to write one page stories. I was completely horrified. One page? How could I develop my characters? What about my plot? So I talked my teacher into letting me write a longer story - just do a page a day. She agreed. *grin*

Throughout high school, I kept writing. I'd stay home from high school basektball games on Friday and Saturday nights to write. Didn't bother me a bit. I wasn't an introvert in high school - I was in band, participated in drama, had good friends, etc. But I wasn't a partier.

THAT happened in college.

As my Dad is fond of saying (hi, Dad!), "All hell broke loose."

I still wanted to write during the college years, but to be honest, I didn't get much done. I wasn't focused on it and even after I graduated and got my first job out of college, I wasn't focused. I did the normal things - got married, had a baby, became a stepmom, bought a house, went back to get my graduate degree...etc. But every single day, I thought about my writing.

I think I've become quite serious about my writing in the past year. I finished my manuscript and started two more. I'm very active in my local RWA chapter. I write as often as I can.

And it's funny...

My desk is in the basement once more. But instead of a typewriter and a transistor radio, I have a flat-screen computer and a CD player.

I'm a writer. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I suppose I didn't realize at the time that there was no "being" a writer. I just was a writer. And I still am.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Joy of Query Writing

Heaving a sigh of relief, you look at the last page of your manuscript and proclaim your baby ready for submission. The toughest part of the battle is over.


Anyone who has written a query letter knows how painful and difficult it is. I’ve written three chapters in the length of time it has taken me to write one measly little letter. But it gets easier.

The query letter I’ve been using for the ms out in submission hell has had about a 70% success rate, meaning I’ve either had a request for a partial or full based on the letter 70% of the time. At first I thought it was a fluke (the genre I wrote the story for is hot) or maybe luck. But when I helped Melissa revise hers, she sent it out to three agents and immediately received three requests. So I thought I would share what I have gleaned and maybe my ideas will help everyone else.

First, I need to explain. I am a person that likes to see things in order. Everything has an equation. This includes a query letter. For me, the query letter has five parts: the opening, body paragraph one, body paragraph 2, body paragraph 3 and a closer. I also like to keep my queries to one page.

I should add that the queries I’m discussing are for single title romances. I know category queries are different and I’m not the gal to follow on that topic. I’m not promoting this as a guide for any other genre.

Okay, so where to begin. I’m sure most writers have heard of the TV Guide method, a simple, one sentence blurb about the story. I like this as a starting point. The sentence does not have to be brilliant, it is not going to go into your query, but it will serve as a guide. Here’s an example:

“A Manhattan woman falls in love with the 19th-century Duke of Albany who has stepped through a time portal.”


“A veterinarian tries to make a woman who has short-term memory loss fall in love with him.”

Yeah, I snagged these from the cable guide, but you get the idea of what you want to do with your own story.

Looking at my sentence, I start with a character and write a sentence about him or her. This is my first paragraph. I give a detail about them, basically where they are at for the beginning of the story. Next, I look at the second character and do the same thing as I did for the first. This is my second paragraph.

The third paragraph is the beef of the conflict. You aren’t telling the story but cutting to the heart of the matter. In the example of “50 First Dates” the third paragraph would be about his attempts at “dating” her. And it could be left open. Will he succeed in winning her heart? That question doesn’t need to be answered at this point. For “Kate & Leopold,” the third paragraph would deal with the difficulties inherent in the situation and how they will resolve it. Will he return? Will she give up all to be with him? You get the picture.

At this point, you aren’t worried about the hook. Get the basics down and feel good about what you have written. Once you are there, now is the time to punch it up, show how unique this story is. Let your voice shine through. Too often writers try to get the hook in before solidifying the body of the query. It’s like decorating a cake. You can’t put the plastic animals and frosting roses on until the whole cake has a basic layer of icing. It will look funny if the cake is covered with decoration but no frosting. Queries are the same way. You might think you have a really clever hook, but if it doesn’t have a solid base, it falls flat. Here’s an example from my own query. It had this line:

“Her job and her boyfriend are boring. But it changes when she finds a strange vampire in her house.”

Dull but it gives me something solid to work with. In the real query, it reads like this:

“Life holds little excitement, her job is routine and so is her boyfriend, but things change one dark dawn when she comes home to find a sexy vampire named Lucas reclining in her La-Z-Boy.”

So write down the basics then make it interesting.

Now to the rest. For the opening paragraph, keep it simple. I state the name of the ms, the fact that it is finished, the word count, the genre and the setting. No more. No hook. The agent/editor can see exactly what they are reading. The last paragraph is the credentials. Give only specifics. Contest wins, publishing credits, that sort of thing. If you think your education really has an impact, go ahead and add it. But if it doesn’t, don’t. Remember, the less filler you have at the top and the bottom, the more room you have in the middle to strut your stuff. I usually mention that I’m working on another project, but I don’t get detailed. I want the agent/editor to know I am writing and not sitting around eating bon bons. I also do not specify how many books I’ve written. An agent doesn’t want to read how you’ve written 20 books, none of them published. I always thank them for their time and if you are including a partial, you should mention it.

I hope this is helpful to some of you out there. DO NOT be looking for the sequel “The Joy of Synopsis Writing” any time soon from me. I hate those little buggers.