Auntie Deborah Returns From Wildfire Evacuation To Answer Your Questions

It’s been an exciting couple of months. Back in mid-August, Auntie Deborah and her household fled from the wildfires descending upon their small California town. After a month staying first with friends and then in a hotel, she and her people and all four cats returned home to a herculean clean-up job. Actually, the cats did not contribute, except in a profusion of shed fur. Order and cleanliness are gradually emerging, along with a return to writing her own work and advising younger writers.
Dear Auntie Deborah,
How can a literary agent tell from the first ten pages whether they want to represent a book?

Auntie Deborah: Most agents can tell from the first paragraph if they want to continue reading. Agents have read thousands of manuscripts by the time they’re in the pro league and they, like magazine editors who plough through mountains of slush, can spot right away if the author has the command of fictional techniques and language that are the bare minimum for a publishable story. It doesn’t matter what comes after that first paragraph if the author has failed to engage and intrigue, with every indication that if the reader places themself in the author’s hands, as it were, the experience will be reliably satisfying.
Dear Auntie Deborah,
Is it okay to write when I’m upset and not feeling like myself, or should I wait until I’ve calmed down?
Auntie Deborah: What makes you think that when you are “emotional, upset, or worried” you are not yourself? Passion is as much a part of writing as intellect. Let it all out on paper! Give yourself something intense and uncensored to then revise and mine for purest gold.

I am now revising a novel I drafted while caring for my best friend in the final weeks of her life. At the time, it was pure escape, a place to put all my strongest, most painful emotions. Only afterward did I see the amazing heart of the piece. It’s required several rounds of being taken apart and put back together the way fiction needs to be structured. This last round follows a long discussion with my agent, who is very excited about it. (As a note, I’ve been publishing fiction for over 35 years, with 15 novels and umpteen short stories, so I have experience with this <g>)

Dear Auntie Deborah:
Why do people advise me not to address an editor as “Dear Sir”?

Auntie Deborah: I strongly advise you not to address an editor as “sir.” The primary reason is the likelihood that the editor is a woman. In 2016, 78% of editors were women. (All 3 editors at my publisher are women.) Do you want to begin your letter with the assumption that an editor must be male?

Instead, say, “Dear editor.” Better yet, address your letter to the specific editor to whom you are submitting. (“Dear Ms. Jones” — not Miss or Mrs!) You should know this as part of researching your markets. Some publishers have a first or slush reader, usually anonymous, in which case, “Dear editor” or “Dear publisher” would be fine.


Dear Auntie Deborah,
What do I do when my main character simply won’t fit the scenario of the plot?

Auntie Deborah: You have a choice: let the character tell their authentic story, or promise to do that in order to keep the character quiet and happy, and stick another, more appropriate character in the current story. The fact that your character is talking back to you is an excellent sign, by the way. I’d go with that. You might discover you are an author who prefers character-driven stories, and this is a great place to start.

Dear Auntie Deborah,
Is a Chromebook a good tool for writers? Why or why not?
Auntie Deborah: First of all, the only tool you need is your imagination. Everything else is negotiable. I’ve written novels long hand in spiral notebooks, I’ve typed them, I’ve written them in WordStar, WordPerfect, various iterations of Word, and Google Docs. I’ve used a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, and a Chromebook. There is no best, there is only what works for you.

When you ask if a Chromebook is a good tool for writers, you’re really talking about Google Docs.

I received a Chromebook as a gift, to replace an aged and very heavy laptop that no longer had a functional battery and had to be plugged in all the time. I loved how light it was for the size of the keyboard and screen. I had to adjust to Google Docs (and then to saving the final manuscript in Word because that’s what my publisher requires). Now I love it! I can switch back and forth from voice recognition (although it’s very stupid voice recognition) and I can access the files from anywhere. I never need to worry about losing my work. I use one file per chapter. One drawback (besides the need to move to Word for the final file) is that if I compile the entire novel into one file for revision, the auto save takes so long that it freezes the process. So when I throw it all together, I move to my desktop and Word.

All of this said, there are other word processing programs that writers prefer. Many of my colleagues swear by Scrivener, which has many helpful features. Because I learned to write novels longhand/typewriter, I’ve figured out my own system. Scrivener means using a laptop or desktop, which means portability, especially if weight is an issue.

Dear Auntie Deborah,

Is it bad to write a story in which the protagonist is an orphan?
Auntie Deborah: Good heavens, have you read any English or American literature?

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