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.
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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. Continue reading “Auntie Deborah Returns From Wildfire Evacuation To Answer Your Questions”

Talking About Audiobooks on Cat Rambo’s Blog

Cat Rambo is former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and an author of considerable note. Instead of writing on my own blog today, I wrote on hers—a fairly detailed piece on audiobooks and how I went about it with my books. I called it “How I Ventured into Audiobooks and Lost My Shirt—Or Maybe Found It.” If audiobooks interest you, and especially if you’re a writer wondering how that whole thing works, why not step over there and take a look. Here’s a teaser:

Audiobooks are the current gold rush in publishing—or so they say, and you know “they” always know what they’re talking about. If you don’t get on the audiobook wagon, you are sure to lose out.

That might or might not be true. But one thing that is true, without a doubt, is that listening to a book narrated aloud is an experience unlike that of silently reading text. An audiobook can make or break a book for the listener. In the hands of a poor narrator, any book can be crushed. But in the hands of a skilled narrator, even humdrum text can take flight, and sparkling text can soar.… [continue reading]

Journalistic Ethics

I was practically born in a newsroom. My mother always said that while she wasn’t the first woman copy editor at the Houston Chronicle, she was the first pregnant copy editor. When I worked there many summers later as a copy girl, there were people still there who knew me before I was born.

Which is to say, that while I was raised Episcopalian, the true religion in my childhood home was journalism. Both my parents worked on newspapers throughout their lives, eventually running several weeklies outside of Houston after they got tired of putting up with top management at the city’s dailies.

Their principles were rooted in journalism. Get the facts right. Do what it takes to get the story. And you gotta run the story even if it’s going to piss off the powerful people who might sue and who will certainly pull their advertising.

I came up with a strong sense of journalistic ethics. So it surprised the hell out of me the first time I met a reporter who said they never voted because they didn’t think journalists should take sides. Continue reading “Journalistic Ethics”

A Breath of Frustration

Awhile back I listened to Terry Gross interview James Nestor about his book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. From the interview, it appeared that the book was about both the long-held knowledge about breath and breathing and the way science was now confirming that those old systems had a lot of value.

I was intrigued, because I have learned something about breathing in martial arts and qigong training and have studied a little bit of yoga breathing as well. I wanted to know about more of those practices and about what science was finding. From the way Gross did the interview, I assumed the book was built on quality reporting and good science.

I downloaded a sample and while I wasn’t impressed with the writing style (which, perhaps because Nestor primarily writes for Outside magazine and similar outlets, was overly personal and casual), I decided getting the information would be worth putting up with the style. So I bought the book.

And was terribly disappointed. There wasn’t as much information as I’d hoped for about traditional breathing practices (though there is good material in the appendix) and much of the scientific research came from the kind of people who go off and research on their own because no one else gets their genius. Every so often, such people are real geniuses, but most of the time, they’re cranks or quacks. Continue reading “A Breath of Frustration”