Friday, 23 March 2018

What is a Story 101

The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat's mat is a story.
                                                                                                                      – John le Carre

This is such a perfect, straightforward illustration of what a story needs in order to be engaging -- in fact, to be a story at all because a story is "a factual or fictional account of an event or series of events."

A story requires at least one character, a setting, conflict and resolution (or the intentional absence of resolution).

So in Le Carre's example we have:

* two cats
* two mats (inside or outside, doesn't matter at the moment. We might find that out later, or we might not.)
* one cat takes over the other cat's territory (or is given permission or is even forced/tricked for some reason we don't yet know)
* We have no idea how this story will be resolved, but that's the fun of writing....and of reading, of course.

The writer gets to mess around with the character(s), their world, their problem...and then all of that leads to some resolution.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

#WordWednesday...sort of

I learned this morning that today is #NationalWriteYourStoryDay, so I suggested to my Twitter and Facebook followers to do just that. I suggested they not worry about grammar and punctuation at first -- just get the ideas and words on the page. There's time to fix it up later.

And then I got busy doing other things and planning the next task that needed my attention -- all important and valuable for my writing and my writing business.

And then I read a blog post. It's called "Stephen King's 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer," by Jon Morrow. Excellent, helpful article about writing and blogging.

And then it hit me.

I was reading about writing and preaching about writing and planning stuff about writing and editing someone else's writing...but I wasn't writing. Not really.

There's a manuscript with my name on it, making its way around the Query Universe. It has add-on stuff that needs attention so it's ready when some wondrous agent contacts me to read more.

Two partial books are languishing in the "back drawer" of my laptop. They could use work.

OR I could also take my own advice and Write My Story. Today. It won't be long, since it's just a quick recap of one aspect of my life. Then I'll get back to the other things.

My Story
I don't remember actually learning to print, but I do remember starting to learn cursive writing. It fascinated me to link those separate little letters together and make them roll along together. My hand liked it, too. Writing in cursive felt so...smooth...and natural.

Then somewhere along the way, pretty early on, I discovered I also liked writing reports for school. I loved going to the library, piling big books on my table (satisfying smack that made the librarian scowl) and mining them for information. The pictures sucked me in, the words took me to interesting places. The feel of the books in my arm anchored me and told me I existed.

Fast forward many years, through several jobs where writing was only a sidebar to the "real" work. Into teaching and the pleasure of writing out lessons and helping students balance the agonies of trying to please a teacher more than themselves. Raising children and reading books to one another, helping them learn printing and cursive and a love of stories and books.

And now, here I am, grateful that writing is no longer just a sidebar, but the main event in my daily life.

-- The End --

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


Tomorrow is International Women's Day (IWD). This day has been observed since the early 1900s, originally with an emphasis on job equity for women. One word that came from the modern women's movement is even older than IWD.

Did you know that the honorific "Ms." was first used in the 1600s? It was derived from "Mistress," which was a formal form of address, like Mister. Neither term indicated marital status at that time. The short form fell out of favour for the next 300 years.

Then in 1901 the following proposal was printed in a Massachusetts newspaper, The Republican:

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Everyone has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts...

Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation "Ms" is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as "Mizz," which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs alike.

This "new" honorific came and went in the English lexicon, sprouting up in 1951, 1952 and again in 1961, when Sheila Michaels was advocating for a title for women who did not "belong" to a man. Her efforts were largely ignored. In 1969 Gloria Steinem heard about the term from a friend who had listened to a radio interview, and in February 1972, Ms. magazine hit the newsstands.

After another decade or so of the term's patchy acceptance and use, at last we seem to have agreed that both women and men can be addressed without reference to their marital status. We now have two terms that eliminate both the guesswork about marital status and the suggestion that it's even relevant in most non-personal interactions.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Query, Query Query

I am currently in the process of sending query letters to agents for my fifth book, which is my first novel. I need a different agent than I had in the early days, which sometimes happens.

Agents are approached multiple times every day, week after week, by people (like me) who feel they have the next best-seller. Because the publishing industry is so crowded with writers and publishing options and social media demands, agents need to be selective if they are going to survive the thousands of hours they spend reading people's material. Plus they have existing client-authors who need support, too.

Enter the query letter.

Query letters are not remotely a new thing, but they are certainly the first crucial step in getting published today. Writing queries has practically been called a genre in its own right, probably because it's a huge process with a particular purpose.

I've maintained the best sense of humour and humility I can during this current round of queries, which looks like this:

  • research to find agents and make a long list of possibilities
  • research to shortlist that long list
  • research to become acquainted with those shortlisted agents and agencies
    • what authors and books they represent
    • how I feel about their social media posts, photograph and way of describing themselves
  • create a table that includes who they are, what they want & how they want it, when they do and do not want it, if and when they responded
  • simultaneously, or before, also research query letters
    • how to write them
    • how not to write them
    • what winning queries look like
  • write what feels like fifty query letters that actually survive the trash bin
    • send several versions to very patient and supportive friends and family members
    • check to make sure one's skin is thick enough to listen to what they say
  • further hone the query letter for general purposes
  • read the manuscript what feels like fifty times to find the best sample, as per agents' expectations, and check each time for typos and better word infinitum
  • hold one's breath and decide, agonizingly, which agent(s) to query first (Just do it, for Pete's sake!!)
  • tweak the query to match the agent's requirements
  • tweak the writing sample to match the agent's requirements
  • gasp for breath after hitting Send
  • somehow don't faint from exhaustion
Repeat. Probably numerous times.