Monday, November 30, 2015

A word about proof reading

Now that National Novel Writing Month has come to a close, a lot of you will turn to the lovely task of revising and then proof reading. (if you're not quite at The End, well, not to worry. Here's a pep talk from the Fabulous Bill Cameron)

One of the things I've learned in writing this blog is to allow enough time for proof reading. It's almost a truism that the posts I write the closest to deadline are the ones with the clunkiest writing and all too often, the ones with words that have gone astray. Missing letters. Wrong meaning. Yanno...those insidious little HomonymTypoFuckers.

My most recent insight was to make sure to allow at LEAST a day or two for the Week in Review. Not only is it longer than most other posts, it's usually got more "moving parts" in that I cut and paste quotes and jpgs in that post more so than in the weekly posts. In other words, lots more places for stuff to go wrong wronger wrongest.

I started last week's review (11/29/15) on the Friday before I needed to post. I worked on it for a while on Saturday morning, then again Saturday night. On the Sunday morning before it was due to go live, I re-read and found three typos.  AIEEE!!

On WIR posts I've started on Sunday morning? Well, let's just say I've been known to go back a couple days later and fix some of the more egregious errors that y'all forgot to mention to me (remember, telling me about homonyms/spelling errors is MUCH appreciated. Just don't correct spelling mistakes made by the other commenters.)

What this means to you: allow enough time to proofread. Don't think it's a matter of days for a novel length ms. I figure you can proof about 5000 words a day at MOST, and fewer is often better. Reading any faster and your eye skips the same kind of stuff I missed on that WIR (buy/but, he/the.)

When I need to proof read contracts, I always print it out on paper and use a straight edge to keep my eye from moving too quickly. I look up after every paragraph to break the rhythm.  You'd be shocked and appalled to hear the number of typos I find in boilerplate contracts (ie contracts that should be the same each time.)

Revising is where you earn your chops as a writer. Proofreading is where you show me your level of meticulousness.  There are only a few qualities I value in writers more than being meticulous.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week in Review 11/29/15

Welcome to the week that was.

Last week, the WIR went AWOL. I blame the cat.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl

Faced with the choice of petting the cat or doing any kind of work, I picked the cat. I'm sure the cat concierges among us will understand. There was, however, in place of the post, a lovely string of comments introducing us to various fuzzy family members.

I must say though Amy Schaefer's comment was really cool:
And, if I went outside right now, I might be lucky enough to see the pod of dolphins make their daily migration to the next island over. Not pettable, but lovely wildlife all the same.
And nighstmusic's comment just cracked me up:
My dobes would let anyone have whatever someone wanted if they broke into the house. If they have a cookie? The dobes will carry everything to the car!
But it was Kae Ridwyn's comment that surprised me the most:
There's a camel farm across the road from us. Ever so often they decide to graze near the fence, and we can see them clearly from our bedroom windows, just 30 metres away. Being able to watch them on such a regular basis makes me feel pretty special. My German Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog go nuts though, wanting to herd them! It's kinda funny, really.

Camel farm? I knew there were reindeer farms (I lived next to one for a couple years!) and mink farms (raised for their pelts, not as pets) but I had NO idea such a thing as a camel farm existed.

On Monday, the results of the Duchess of Yowl Flash Fiction contest were announced.

nightsmusic's comment
I decided to do what someone else said, write it, post it, THEN read the other entries. I almost deleted it because everyone's read so much better.
reminds me to tell you to NEVER assume your entry won't catch my attention. Sometimes that one turn of phrase, or a great sentence is enough to do it. Have confidence in yourself!

Poof! had a spelling note:
2) Spell check on paws. (Lallygagging should be lollygagging). Op. cit. Cat.
Now, this is the interesting thing: blogger corrects lollygagging to lallygagging! When I spell czech with Word, it's lollygag. When I checked with online dictionaries: lollygagging.

AJ Blythe missed posting because of time zone confusion:
I tried to do what I said I would - post *then* read. Unfortunately it would seem I messed up my timezones again (somehow calculating 10pm not 10am for closing) because when I went to post it was... closed =(
Would a countdown clock be useful? There are a lot of places I can create a widget that would appear on the contest post site that would tell you the number of hours remaining. Given we have readers all around the world now I was thinking that might be something to add. Let me know, ok?

And in case you were wondering just how self-involved I am, it took me a week, and two reads to figure out that our winner here was also the winner at Flash! Friday.

I couldn't figure out how Colin had missed Marie's win, given he was commenting on the exact post that mentioned it:

PS: I just noticed Marie won this past Friday's Flash! Friday Contest too!! Wow--that's the kind of double-whammy I can only dream of!! Well, done, Marie. What an awesome start to the week for you!! :D

The light dawned when I read this from Michael Seese:
Congratulations to Marie on 2/3 a hat trick: a win here AND Flash! Friday.

Yup, Janet, there are other blogs in the universe. And contests. Get a grip on your ego, SharkForBrains!

On Tuesday I posted a new approach to getting the gist of a query on the page.

This comment from Lucie Witt was interesting:
Before I start on a new WIP, I write a query draft. It essentially reads like back cover copy.

As I draft, I return to my query several times and tweak it. Sometimes this means adjusting to match new plot points that come up as I write. Sometimes it also helps me remember to stay on my main plot when I'm drafting and subplots start tempting me to go a million different directions.

I've found that when I can't make the query work as I draft, it usually means something's wrong with my plotting.

I've often said that if you really can't get the plot into a query, it's possible there's no plot in the book as well. But, I never thought about using a query as the first step in writing the novel.

I wondered if other writers did this, and sure enough, Susan Bonifant said:
Lucie Witt, a while back, I kinda sorta joked about writing the query first. Then I did it with my current WIP. I followed a path like yours, back and forth from query to changing story and back again to keep the query from sprawling.

I thought it would be more organized, and it is. But I very much like the idea that after two years of writing my heart out, the query won't loom (or will loom less) like a big scary pass/fail guard at the end of it all.

For me, and maybe you and others, this kinda sorta really works.

And Lisa Bodenheim too:
Lucie and Susan: yes, that's how I've working at it too for the past year. The query and the WiP inform each other

I find this fascinating.

Julie M. Weathers attended a panel at Surrey about queries:
The panel was split on where they want the housekeeping stuff. Some want it up front so if the word count is off or it's the wrong genre they can stop reading right there. One agent refuses to read anything over 100,000 words regardless of genre.
This is EXACTLY why I advise writers to put the housekeeping stuff at the bottom. At least give your novel a fighting chance to entice an agent before you mention category (which you get wrong a lot) or word count.

This is the ONE time when "follow the directions" is not what you want to do.

On Wednesday I jumped up and down about cleaning up your web presence before you query:

LynnRodz bemoaned her lack of blog fodder:
Pets? Should I rent one, or can I put a photo of my cactus instead?
How about you just post pictures of where you live? I think that would be almost as good as cat and dog pictures!

Jearl Rugh asked:
However, would pictures the free range deer, including lovely photos of the cutest fawns—the ones that keep my lawn moved—be sufficient?

Dena Pawling's comment here:
>>Your physical address
>>But you don't need ALL of them.
>>List ONLY the ones you want an agent to see.

I have to clean my house? I'm doomed. I woke up this morning to find my kitchen floor flooded. The day before Thanksgiving............
helped me figure out that I need to revise the order of the items in the handout!

Also, sorry about the kitchen floor. I always remember my mom saying that if you want to find out if the septic tank needs work, have 24 people invited for Thanksgiving. The tank is sure back up right in the middle of dinner.

Later update from Dena Pawling:
Thanks for all the well wishes. My kitchen floor turned out to be -- the reservoir of my water filter thingy overflowed. I realize that's a highly scientific definition. Sorry. Anyway, messy but not major, thankfully.

John Frain asked:
Okay, after reading a post like this and a link like THAT (!), it's still not proper to send a bottle of top shelf to FinePrint?

No. No gifts. No no no. I appreciate your inclination to say think you in a measurable way but honestly, please no. Even good stuff like liquor and choccies, and cookies are really better off not coming here.

Dave Rudden asked:
I have self-published two shorter books, but I am considering sending out query letters for different novel. Is it going to hurt my chances of finding an agent when they see that I am promoting my self-published books?
Just make sure that your query letter says you've self-published two short novels. The only time it's a problem for me is when I'm stalking a writer that I think is a debut novelist only to find out there is a bunch of work already for sale. Consistent information is best.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, so the blog post was just a selfie with blog readers

Donnaeve said:
(and that pic is seriously freaking me out. WHAT'S BEHIND THE SHARK?)
That's Barbara Poelle, of course!

There were many comments from readers who are thankful for this blog and the community that has grown up around it. I'm absolutely convinced that the value of this blog is indeed the comment trail. I always laugh when I see someone moaning "don't read the comments, don't read the comments" about some site or another. Here, you MUST read the comments…and it's actually safe to do so. That's a huge community accomplishment!

John Frain said:
Gotta give huge thanks to the Queen and the Reiders here. What a joy to look forward to meeting up every day. Remember the book "Third Places" (I hope I have the title right!). This is my Third Place.
I think the book is called Celebrating the Third Place by Ray Oldenburg

Friday we discussed whether agents are less inclined to sign writers of advanced years:

Sherry Howard had a good point in her comment:
So, Janet, I appreciate your words of wisdom and honesty here. I'd never mention those things in a query, but I use my current picture on social media. Honestly, I've considered taking down my white-headed pictures before I query. But, hey, who wants an agent who doesn't want them?

That's an interesting conundrum. I'd vote for taking it down. The reason isn't cause you want to lie or obfuscate. I think a lot of young people don't realize they discriminate against older people. It's something you don't see until it happens to you. I'd vote for letting an agent fall in love with your work before anything else.

And if you are a writer, and you are using your current picture on social media, please for the love of godiva, get a GOOD professional shot or at a least a good FUN shot. The number of really terrible headshots I've seen (on the dust jackets of self-published books a lot!) is staggering.

Joan Kane Nichols has a very good question here:
As others have said, Janet, you've answered the question graciously. But here are my practical concerns.

I've been published, have won awards, teach a writing class, so I'm no old newbie (there's an oxymoron for you). I don't mention my age in queries, but as you've often pointed out, agents google writers whose queries they like. A surf through the web will find enough to figure out my age. So that worries me.

Also--conferences. I've several times seen an agent's expression subtly shift as I approach to make my pitch, making me feel I'm written off before I get a chance to dazzle.

So I wonder--should I slip on my cloak of invisibility, scrub myself from the web (if I can), shun conferences?

It bugs me to think I have to.

It bugs me too. And I don't think you should. But I think we all need to recognize that age IS a barrier. My beloved Richard Gilbert is my ONLY client north of 60. That would seem to indicate that it's harder to get my attention if you're over 40 than I would like to think.

Like anyone facing a barrier, I think the way ahead is simply to keep at it. Write great work.

On Saturday we talked about what are known as grief memoirs and how hard it can be for them to find an audience in general trade publishing

I think all of us paused when we read Susan Bonifant's elegant comment:
Grief is a python that will kill you so slowly you don't know you're dying. A writer who is sharing heartbreak may not know they are really just trying to survive.
I'm pretty sure I'll be quoting that in emails to writers in the future.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli mentioned a book:
Missing by Lindsay Harrison sticks in my mind because her voice is unforgettable. I couldn't finish it because it was very tragic.

I looked it up and realized instantly it was not a book I'd ever be able to read. Which is a really good reminder that if Lindsay Harrison had queried me, I would have passed, and this book is clearly well-written and evocative (Scribner doesn't publish junk, no sirreeebob.) Not all books, even well-written books are for every agent.

Colin Smith mentioned something important here as well:
One last point--when I was researching my Teenage Alien in Victorian London novel, I looked particularly for things written in late Victorian London that would give me a flavor of what daily life was like. Doing that kind of research really gives you an appreciation for the value of memoir. It also makes me wonder if maybe those stories that aren't broadly marketable today may actually increase in value years down the road. People may not be interested in your story of struggle and survival today, but in 100 years, historians and researchers might enjoy reading how people in the early 21st century dealt with personal tragedies and hardships.

The lack of what had been the backbone of archival research -letters- in a hundred years will mean that these self-published books will be VERY important. It will be one of the only ways historians will know what life in our time was like.

The sheer volume of email archives will render them close to useless. I don't even want to think about whether computers in the future will even be able to read the software of today. (Think of how hard it is to find a cassette tape player these days! Or an 8-track!)

Actual printed books will survive software upgrades nicely; and be a much more reasonable amount of information** to look at.

**I took a look through my email archives when I was thinking about this yesterday: I've sent about 11,000 emails so far in 2015. I receive about 1800 emails a month. That's about 2800 emails in and out in the course of one month. And while I like to think of myself as the center of the known universe, I'll bet you one Big Bang Theory cookie that a lot of people with public careers gets ten times that volume. Imagine sorting through that for hidden details. One of the insidious things about historical research is you often don't know what you're looking for till you see it, and worse, you often don't know what you don't have until you see everything you do have.

Too much information can be a problem as serious for a historian as no information!

A.J. Cattapan's comment shows the value of self-publishing for memoirs like these:
This is also why my cousin ended up self-publishing her cancer-survivor memoir. It didn't quite have a broad enough appeal to catch the attention of a traditional press, so she's self-published it. Because she also sells handmade scarves to raise money for cancer research, she is able to sell her memoir and her scarves to her target audience. During her many craft fairs, she meets up with lots of cancer survivors who are interested in how she endured "childhood leukemia" and a stroke as a young mother of three children. So while she may not be raking in the dough, she is reaching her audience and her story is having an impact.

CynthiaMc said:
Sometimes I wonder if there's a place for me in the world the way it is now. I prefer to lift up rather than tear down, to laugh rather than cry, to make something happen rather than play victim. So much of what's out there is angry, depressing, depraved, violent. That's not me.

My style these days is "Yes, the world sometimes sucks but here's what's good about it, too."

Hope there's a market for that.
Oh my god, yes there is! Never doubt that for a second! In the throes of despair, the last thing I'm going to read is something dark! That's when I reach for my favorite cozy mystery writers, and even for my beloved Agatha Christie or Dick Francis. I may rep and sell dark fiction, but I'm the last person who would say there's not a place for light fiction as well. It's saved my life more than once. And as recently as two weeks ago

I think CarolynnWith2Ns hit it right on the head here:
The columns which receive the most mail always, and I mean always, are the ones which allow the reader to dip into their own well. It's about me and yet it never is. It's always about them.

I hope all of you had a refreshing break this week and are ready for the onset of the holiday season.  Start making your list of books that knocked your sox off in 2015! We'll certainly be talking about them in time for Christmas shoppers to benefit!

This week's subheader noms:

(1) It's nice to finally find a place where you feel like you belong--or, at least, where you can set aside your writing woes, learn a little (or a lot), and know you're welcomed with threats of exile and kale juice.--Susan

(2) patience isn't just a virtue when you query, it's a necessary survival skill--Lucie Witt

(3) Any dead weight can tug a heart down, but it takes magic to make it soar.--Julie M. Weathers

(4) My dragon ate my comment--Julie M. Weathers

(5) Grief is a python that will kill you so slowly you don't know you're dying. A writer who is sharing heartbreak may not know they are really just trying to survive.  --Susan Bonifant

Saturday, November 28, 2015

More on memoir

Memoir queries can break your heart.

"My husband died. I had five kids to feed. I figured out how to do it. I made it. I want to help other people in this situation. Here's my memoir."

"My child died of cancer. I want to make sure other families learn from our ordeal. Here's my memoir."

"My child died by suicide. I thought I would die too. I didn't. I want to help other parents. This is my memoir of how I made it."

I try to answer these queries personally. The amount of pain quivering in that electronic font isn't an optical illusion. Or maybe it is the tears in my own eyes, I'm not sure.

But the answer to these queries is almost universally no.

And the why is cruel: memoir, even memoir trying to help other people in similar situations, must have a significance for readers who are not experiencing what the writer did. There must be something more to the memoir. Something that makes it universal.

Without that, it's almost impossible to pitch this for general trade publishing.

The question to ask is "what does this story have to offer people who are NOT in my situation."

If you're finding a cold shoulder while querying memoir, this might be the problem.

It will help to get some objective opinions. It's hard to do this at a writing conference. If you sit down across from me and tell me this is a memoir of your child's death, my first response is not to say "well, what's in it for me?" even though that's what I need to know. My first response is to ask your child's name, how old s/he was, and to tell me more about her.

Thus, you'll need to find a place where you have more time. Time for people to get past the first shock of tragedy. A good writing class on memoir will help you. An independent editor will be of use to you.

Telling a larger story through the lens of your own individual story is what you need.

And if you can't find a larger story, there's a lot to be said for making the book available on your own. Even if you comfort just a few people, that's a good thing coming from a very sad event.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How do agents assess viability of writers who are 65+

Last week you featured posts on the glacial pace of publishing and the death of an aspiring writer. While writers generally accept the maxim “write a good book and everything will fall into place,” there must be some calculations made by literary agents when the author seeking representation is a senior citizen. Frank McCourt’s breakthrough with Angela’s Ashes is often held up as proof that success can come to elder writers. I’m sure there are other examples, but aren’t they the exceptions that prove the rule?

Can your share some observations on how literary agents assess the marketing viability (i.e. touring, physical stamina, appeal to book buyers, follow-up titles) and profit potential for prospective clients who happen to be north of, say, sixty-five?

I’ve read a lot of the blog archives, but couldn’t find anything on this exact topic.

Let me just start with an homage to my beloved client, Richard Gilbert. I think he was 83 when I first started working with him on his memoir. Sadly, he has now shaken off this mortal coil, as has his lovely wife, and I miss them both to this day.

I was honored to work with a man like Mr. Gilbert. He ran the agency that created some of the most iconic advertising images of the 60's. Images I remembered when he queried me.

It never crossed my mind that he was too old to sign.
It never crossed my mind that he would die either, but we had a number of lovely years working together before that very sad day.

But, that doesn't really answer your question does it.

I don't know how other agents handle this; it's not something we really talk about.

What I know is that I don't think about a writer's age unless it's mentioned in the query. It's not a factor in assessing whether I want to sign a great writer.

If you're concerned about your work getting short shrift because you're of mature years, don't mention your age.

Don't mention you didn't start writing until you retired.
Don't mention your grandchildren.

In other words, let your work speak about how talented you are, not how old you are.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, a holiday so rich in irony this year I won't even start to list the ways.

I hope all of you are celebrating with people you love.

Let me just say this: I'm profoundly thankful to have you blog readers as part of my life.

You have a created a virtual community here that I value beyond words. You guys crack me up, amuse me, exasperate me, and keep me accountable on those blasted misspellings!

My life would be the poorer without all of you collectively and individually.

Thanks for being my chums!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Querying? Clean up your web presence!

I recently taught a class in Effective Query Letters at CrimeBake.
The hand out for the class is here (for awhile anyway!--if the link doesn't work, email me and I'll send you a PDF)

You'll notice item #10: Correct form for email querying.
Your contact info is at the bottom.

Your contact info can be all of these:
Your name
your email
your telephone
Your website
Your blog
Your twitter name
Your Facebook page
Your physical address
But you don't need ALL of them.
List ONLY the ones you want an agent to see.

And before you send your first query, take a look at your blog, your website, your Facebook page and/or your Twitter feed to see what an agent skulking around will see.

Posting your rejections with comments? Not a good idea.

Posting your anguished rants on the vagaries of the publishing industry? Not a good idea.

Posting your work? Do you want me to read it? I will if it's there.

The other thing you'd be VERY smart to do is have another set of eyes take a look. If you've got spelling errors and homonyms, run on sentences or sentences that don't make sense, you want to edit those BEFORE I get your query.

Even the most careful writer will find errant words and phrases have crept in to their online writing.

And it never hurts to post a picture of your pet.

Any questions?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Writing Effective Queries

I've spent ten years talking about writing effective queries.

The number of INeffective queries that arrive in my mailbox, DAILY, is perplexingly high.

When you think about a query, it's pretty simple really.
A good query is like the answer to the question: Have you read any good books lately?

When someone asks you that, what do you say?

Agent: So, read any good books lately?
Author 1:YES! It was 75,408 words long, and it's historical fiction, and it's set in Boring, Oregon!

Agent: So, read any good books lately?
Author 2: YES! I'm an unpublished writer with no writing credits, but I've loved to write since I was little.

Agent: So, read any good books lately?
Author 3: YES! It starts with Jack Reacher being arrested for a crime he could not have committed, and when he's cleared of that, the guy who framed him turns up dead, and Reacher has to decide whether to stay and figure out what happened or just get the hell out of this crazy pants town.

A good query is a handsome beast!

I did a round of query replies this morning and at least 30% of them didn't get to "what's the story" until the third paragraph.

Look at your query. Look at the first line. If I ask you "So, read any good books lately?" are you going to tell me what you've written in that first line?

The most compelling thing you're going to tell me in your query is the plot.
Start with that.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Duchess of Yowl flash fiction contest results

I have spent the entire weekend lollygagging about petting the cat and cozying up to HBO on the couch. The ONLY thing I got done was the contest results!  The contest entries were great, the cat is great, and HBO is a treat cause I don't have TV at my own apartment.

But now, to work! Herewith the results:

a misspent youth provided the secret to this story!
Did you figure out what it was about?
 Steve Forti 9:59am

Not quite a story, but terrifyingly evocativ
BJ Muntain 10:26am

This is a sentence that is almost an entire story

Brigid 10:44am
“You never expect the Spanish Inquisition,” Dad murmured. Or the first miscarriage, the second Recession, the third War, their last little girl to grow up.

Special recognition for a great sentence

Foy Iver 1:15pm
"Silence stalked through the line."

Em-Musing 9:38am
The bottle-blonde winked at Alan then turned to the roomful of college jocks deciding which tenderoni she'd stalk tonight.

Homage to the Duchess of Yowl, Herself (now sleeping on her heating pad after being served her dinner)
JD Horn 11:40am

Great opening paragraph
Angie Greagory 12:38pm
It’s been six decades since the day we drowned. Oliver’s death was over in minutes. I’ve been sinking for a lifetime.

Not quite a story, but compelling
Kelly Roell 12:38pm

Not quite a story, but hilarious
french sojourn 1:06pm

Not quite a story, but intense!

Foy Iver 1:15pm

Here are the entries that made the long list:

Janice L. Grinyer 10:30am
Kim English 1:05p 

nightmusic 5:06pm

Claire 6:42pm
Annaka 8:09pm
Michael Seese 8:15pm

John Frain 3:29am

Here are the finalists:

Colin Smith 10:13am

Sam yawned and stretched across the bed. Fleur walked up to him, bending down to nibble his ear.

"Hey tiger," she whispered. "Ready to go Stalking?"

"Hmmm," Sam said with deep satisfaction. "Where’s Lucy? Did they whisker away?"

"No. She’s sleeping off supper. Ate too much."

"Then we must prey for her," Sam grinned. He licked the side of Fleur's face.

“Purrfect,” she sighed.

A neighbor found Minnie's decapitated remains the next morning.

I love the wordplay here: "whisker away" "prey for her" And notice how the syllable "purr" appears like a dash of spice: whispered; supper, fleur.  That innate rhythm in the story gives it an energy. It's like music. It needs a good rhythm section or it just sounds bland!

Marie McKay 2:44pm

I didn't tell them I heard a heavy buzzing sound- a purring- coming from his cradle.
When he learned to move on all fours, he wasn't so different from the other kids.
I bit my lip when he scratched through bathtimes, and braced myself when I had to cut off his whiskers.

The media circus still came, stalking him like prey. They tagged their work DOCUMENTARY since their medium was box-shaped, not tent.

But mothers know sacrifice.

Escaping to the hills, one day, I kissed his exquisite whiskers, before setting my Tiger Boy free.

Two lines  just took my breath away are: "They tagged their work Documentary, since their medium was box-shaped not tent."  and "But mothers know sacrifice."

Those sentences give this piece poignancy and irony. It's not only a story about a mother and son; it's about us, the reader as well. You don't read this from a distance; you're right there.

This piece is an entire life in 90 words. It's brilliant.

amy Schaefer 4:49pm
He was gray and whiskery, like an elderly tiger, or a Norse god gone to seed. Jacqueline traced the lines of his face carefully, curiously. She felt a welling of proprietary pride.

“Jackie! Get off that giant!” Her mother threw a tea towel across her shoulder. “Kids these days, cutting down beanstalks. Now I’m stuck with a rotting giant carcass in my yard in the heat of summer. I mean really…”

Jacqueline jumped off the corpse, spurred more by her own plans than her mother’s complaints. She had eggs to sell, a harp to enjoy.

And new prey to seek

This is hilarious. And it's one of my very favorite things: an old story seen in a very different light.

kdjames 5:26pm
Deep purring and a heavy weight on my chest wake me. I pry open sleep-heavy eyes to gorgeous tiger-striped fur and a rough pink tongue cleaning something darker off whiskers.

Slowly, so slowly, I turn my head and see the mangled prey beside me.

My stomach lurches even as the warm weight lifts.

Come on safari, he said. We'll only shoot photos.

Bloody liar.

I feel dreadful affinity, watching the powerful beast stalk back through the gaping tear in the side of the tent.

We both now have a mate who will leave this place in a box.

I love the double meaning of "bloody liar" and the idea that the tiger is taking revenge.  And "dreadful affinity" really gives us a sense of complex emotions in a perfect bell-note phrase.

Curtis Moser 5:35pm
Robin lay on the floor, holding his longbow limply over his head. "I don't know what's wrong with me, Father. My whiskers don't work, my purrer is broken--even my stalker is malfunctioning."

"It's because you're a fox, not a tiger."

Robin considered this. "Maybe I'm a tiger in a fox's body?"

The clerical mouse was only half-listening. "That's against God's will."

"Great. Now I'm confused and depressed."

"Pray about it."

Robin put his longbow down and sat up. "You think preying will help?"


Robin pounced.

"I'll be damned," he said, licking his chops. "The good Father was right."

I love the word play of pray/prey, and "my stalker isn't working" and the double meaning of "good." Those kinds of clever juxtapositions are delightful. And of course, the idea that homonyms can kill you is VERY appealing.

flashfriday 7:24pm
Master calls me Muffin which is PERFECT she is the BEST THING that ever happened to me since I forget when but Master SAVED ME she SAVED ME I love her with all my heart she is PURE BEAUTY how I can please her today I am going to LICK HER and JUMP ON HER and CHEW ON HER SHOES and—

Enough, limp-whiskers. Learn one word: prey. Stalk tiger-like. Think tiger-like. Be a damn tiger. This house is MINE. Your “Master” is my SLAVE. She will aid my world domination. She-—HEY, I—-hey—-you brought me catnip?



This is a really interesting case study in editing. There was an earlier entry (at 6:42pm) that I liked, but it didn't really elevate to the short list.  Then, this revised entry, where it's now clear that it's a puppy (not a kitten) and a cat, makes it clearer and more funny  I don't know when flashfriday realized it could be improved (somewhere between 6:42pm and 7:24pm presumably) but I love this cause it underscores how important both revision and re-reading can be.

Also, of course, I like the story!

Kregger: 7:36pm
Tiger Shark slipped under the Moon by a whisker. Its hyper-drive engines purred as they gobbled anti-matter and tritium.

Captain Newmar stalked the bridge in her curvaceous latex-jumpsuit and stepped behind Lieutenant Foo.

“Here…? Why?” the diminutive-oriental pilot queried.

“The dark city’s our oyster, I prey.” The captain’s muscles tensed.

The vessel approached Gotham under a cloak of invisibility.

Newmar donned her hooded cape and prepared to eject into the city’s cesspool of chiroptera guano.

“Bats’ll be good hunting this year.” She removed her uniform and stepped into the transporter, saluting Too Won Foo, “Thanks for everything,” said Julie Newmar.

Holy smokes Batman! This is so subtly hilarious I just don't want to explain it.  The only problem is the movie title is missing a letter, and I can't figure out if it's a mistake or done on purpose. And "chiroptera guano" in Gotham City is just perfect.

E.M. Goldsmith 9:47am

Rain again.

“What the Hell, little brother?” Luc asked.

“Making a better garden,” Joe said.

Luc laughed. “That’s a flood. What's that?"


“No, not your damn fish. That?”

“It’s a tiger.”

“It’s being stalked by a shark.”

“Luc! Stop adding things,” Joe said.

“You’ll thank me for the boat. Mammals drown. Turn off the rain.”

“Why are you helping?”

“Judgment Day comes soon. My world is already perfect.”

Luc spurred Joe’s anger.

“Says who?”

“Dad,” Luc said. “What’s that whiskered fellow doing?”



“So I’ll help.”

“Joe, that’s cheating. You’re supposed remain invisible to your creation.”

I'm not sure I agree that Joe and Luc can be brothers, but let's suspend the theology for the sake of the story.  I love this because it's highly original and it's also funny without being comic, and it makes you think. "My world is already perfect" should give you something to gnaw on for a good long time. 

I think each of these finalists are amazing and prize worthy. It's getting harder to choose each week. I'm only sorry Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl was unable to choose.  She stared at the screen for a moment, but was then distracted by a dust mote.

In the end though, I had to choose the one that just took my breath away when I first read it.  Those first reads are often the benchmark. When I read this one I knew instantly it was an entry that would be on the short list. 

It never lost any of its power in subsequent readings.

Our winner this week is: Marie McKay 2:44pm 

Marie, if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address, and the kinds of books you like to read, we'll get your prize in the mail.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to enter. I love reading what you write. You surprise and amaze me every week.

Congratulations to all our short and long list entries. The competiton is fierce, and subjective. Many of you will find your entry is someone's favorite as you read the comments to come!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

WIR delayed

Yes, I'm busy petting the cat, not doing the Week In Review.


But she's very purry and likes to sit on me. It's hard to type when a cat is using you as her chaise lounge.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl Flash Fiction writing contest

I'm cat sitting this coming week.

Her Grace is a really intelligent cat, and like all intelligent creatures enjoys good conversation. A lot of it. In fact, she never really lets anyone else get a yowl in edgewise.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Yowl

I think that deserves a writing contest, don't you?

The usual rules, plus the new one #11, apply:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: purr/spurred is ok, but purr/purpler is not

4. Post the entry in the comment column of THIS blog post.

5. One entry per person. If you need a mulligan (a do-over) erase your entry and post again. It helps to work out your entry first, then post.

6. International entries are allowed, but prizes may vary for international addresses.

7. Titles count as part of the word count (you don't need a title)

8. Under no circumstances should you tweet anything about your particular entry to me. Example: "Hope you like my entry about Felix Buttonweezer!" This is grounds for disqualification.

9. It's ok to tweet about the contest generally.
Example: "I just entered the flash fiction contest on Janet's blog and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt"

10. Please do not post anything but contest entries. (Not for example "I love Felix Buttonweezer's entry!") The place for that is in the comment trail on the blog post with the results.

11. You agree that your contest entry can remain posted on the blog for the life of the blog. In other words, you can't later ask me to delete the entry and any comments about the entry at a later date.

Contest opens: Saturday 11/21/15 10am

Contest closes: Sunday 11/22/15 10am

Questions? Tweet to me @Janet_Reid
Ready? SET?

Not yet!


Sorry, contest is closed!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

More on the glacial pace of publishing


In your blog post  on 10/19/2015 (Conference Meetings with an agent who has a ms on submission), you said it can take 6 months or more to answer a full.  Your blog shows a six week backlog of queries. So seven and a half, perhaps eight months before an answer?
My goal is to have a non-fiction book published by the time of the 2017 BEA in anticipation of the Feb 2018 Winter Olympics. (It includes the biggest story of the 2002 Winter Olympics). Right now I have the full book proposal with two thousand words towards sample chapters.
1. Do I query widely? [I know the answer to this one!]
2. Query now and write like hell towards the full ms?
3. Concentrate on querying junior agents who may provide quicker turn-around?
4. Kiss off my goal?


1. yes
2. yes
3. NO
4. NO

I'm selling books for the Fall 2017 season right now, so you should be querying RIGHT NOW.
The good news is turn around time on proposals is significantly less than it is for novels. 

The bad news: writing a good proposal takes a good long time.

Make SURE you've read Susan Rabiner's book Thinking Like Your Editor. It's the best book out there on non-fiction.  

The other thing to remember is that you might think that the 2018 Winter Olympics is the best time to have this book on shelves, but people buy books about the Olympics regardless of whether it's an Olympic year or not.

Off the top of my head: The Boys in The Boat  was pubbed in 2013. Sacred Games by my client Gary Corby was pubbed in 2013 as well. The Amateurs by David Halberstam was pubbed in 1985. 

So worry more about writing a GREAT proposal and worry less about timing.  


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"I intend to live forever, or die trying"--Groucho Marx

I live in a city that is, by and large, comprised of retirement communities. Many members of the local writer’s group are retirees. As such, our group tends to get a somewhat regular (and sobering) reminder—writers we may be, immortal we are not. About two months ago we lost another member. This past week, a loved one came to the meeting and presented us with a two-part conundrum.

Conundrum Part 1: Writer had kept a handwritten list of who he’d queried (with contact information). Loved One would like to notify agents that he is deceased. Trouble is, Loved One does not have access to Writer's e-mail address, does not know when his queries were sent, does not know which projects he’d submitted to whom, does not know if he sent out fulls or partials, and is not comfortable with e-mail (even though Writer was).

1. Should Loved One contact the agencies on the list?

2. If so, what method would be an appropriate way to contact agencies regarding the death of Writer? Phone? E-mail?

3. What would be the best/ most helpful way to break the news? Should she just give them his name and e-mail address and hope they can track him down in their inbox?

I’m not sure contacting an agency( especially a no response means no agency) with the bad news is a good idea, especially if things are at the query stage/if a form rejection had already been sent. 

Conundrum Part 2: Despite Loved One’s desire to notify agents of Writer’s death, she does not want to pull his work from consideration. She has access to his manuscripts. She would really like a fellow member of the group to take charge of Writer’s manuscripts. No one in the group has said yes. I certainly don't plan to. That said, I understand Loved One’s desire to have Writer’s work repped and published posthumously. 

4. What steps can Loved One take with Writer’s work, if any, to keep it on the road to traditional publication?

5. Is there anything the members can do to help?

Conundrum Part 1:
1. It's polite to give it a try, just in case things had moved beyond query/form rejection.

2 and 3:  Email ONLY.   Tell them the author has been checked out of the Library of Life, and thank them for their consideration. This doesn't happen all that often, but it's not unheard of. You'll need to provide his name, his email address, and where he lives (city, state.)  The agent can cross-reference from there.

Conundrum Part 2 is less easy.

4. It doesn't matter what the surviving spouse wants here. Almost no agent I can think of would take on a client who is actually not-alive. The work doesn't need to be pulled, most agents will take "I'm sorry he's no longer alive" as a reason to pass.

The death of an author before submission generally means the work isn't going to be published by a trade publisher. Self publishing is still an option, but generally a debut novel after death is a remote possibility.

5. Partnering with a surviving spouse for the publication of the absent spouse's work is a recipe for pain and suffering (yours) bar none. Plus, it's all done on spec.  As you mentioned in your first line: long life is not granted to all. Using your time wisely seems like a good idea. In other words: on your own writing.

Bottom line: don't offer to help with the manuscripts. Don't make encouraging noises. Just let the surviving spouse talk and be as gently comforting as possible. 

I did have a prospect who checked out on me some years back.  A writer whom I liked a great deal was revising a novel (we'd done several rounds) when he went silent. I didn't really worry, but then his brother got in touch with the bad news. I did appreciate knowing that he had stopped returning emails cause he was gone, not because he'd lost interest or had moved on to another agent.

I still think about the writer and wish I could get that novel into print somehow. It certainly wasn't ready for publication, but with some more work we would have had a chance.

Yes, there are isolated instances of books being published post-life, but they are ISOLATED and, at least the ones I  know of, happened quite a while ago.

This should serve as a reminder to every writer out there: keep good query records. And make sure someone else knows where they are and how to read them.

And one of these days I'll tell you the story from the other side: what happens when an agent kicks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More on the inept book promo post

This is an email received by our beloved Victoria Strauss who runs Writer Beware, a watchdog site that keeps track of nefarious bottom-feeders in our industry.

Can you spot all the things wrong here?

Hint: it's more than ten. And there's one VERY big error.

(This is NOT a trick quiz!)


Hello, my name is [agent name redacted]. (1) I am the literary agent for [author name redacted], who has a debut novel set to be published in January. The novel’s working title (2) is [book title redacted], and it is a Fantasy novel geared towards children and young adults.(3) It’s a full-length novel, totaling over 100,000 words.(4) The novel is going through the final stages of editing and will be sent to a publisher soon. (5) Because we understand that blogs may become all booked up by the time of publication, or even pre-publication, we are seeking to schedule a tour early. (6) This tour is not strictly for blogs, we are seeking publicity on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. If you choose to partake in the tour, you would be supplied with a media pack based upon the type of post or feature you would like to do. The media pack would include, but is not limited to: Advanced Reader Copies of the novel, Synopsis, Images of exclusive Illustrations done specifically for the novel (7) , a book trailer, graphics/banners, etc.

All tour participants will receive an entry to win a hard copy of the book after publication (8), a follow up interview the author if so desired, swag items, and $25 dollar gift card to Amazon. (9)

The top five tour participants with the most traffic to the tour post will be entered into a giveaway to receive a SIGNED copy of the novel after publication (10), a follow up interview with the author if so desired, exclusive, custom-made swag, an interview with the illustrator, $50 dollar gift card, and exclusive opportunities for ARCs by [author name redacted]. (11)

All participants, if they so desired, will be featured on the Facebook page for the author and other platforms. (12)

We are seeking to do a 2 month long tour, starting in December of this year until the end of January 2016. There are currently openings for the following:

Guest Post

Or a combination of any of these. If you have any other ideas, please do let us know. We’re open to suggestions. If you do not have a space on your blog, and would still like to participate via social media platforms, let us know!

Thank for you for your time in reading this. If you are interested, send us a date and the type of post you’d like to do!

(13) The biggest error of all.

Here are the major ones I spotted in the first skim:

1. Hello, my name is [agent name redacted].
A proper pitch letter does not evoke shouts of "Prepare to Die"**

2. The novel’s working title
The book is slated for publication in January of 2016 and the title hasn't been finalized? How did you get an ISBN? How did you list it on Amazon? What did you call it when you sent it to PW for review (3-6 months pre-pub of course!)

3. a Fantasy novel geared towards children and young adults.

this demonstrates a very clear absence of understanding of both kids and YA readers. Generally the books that kids ages 10-12 read are not the same books being read by young people 16-18. And YA is frequently read by adults. A book that appeals to middle grade readers isn't generally something an adult will read for pleasure.

4. totaling over 100,000 words.
I'm almost afraid to ask how many more than 100,000 words it is. And middle grade (children) don't read books of this length.

5. will be sent to a publisher soon.
This is the one that left me rolling on the floor howling. A publisher? Like a specific one, or just maybe a Random House? Either you have a contract with a publisher (in which case it's THE publisher) or you are sending the book on submission in which case it's not going to be published in January 2016 unless you man you're being "published" by SmashWords.

6. we are seeking to schedule a tour early.
I didn't get up off the floor for this one. It's 11/17/15. That's TEN weeks from the END of January 2016. In other words, this isn't early. This is already too late!

Blog tours are planned MONTHS ahead of pub date, and solicitations are sent 3-4 months ahead of pub date; even earlier if the blog is a busy one.

7. exclusive Illustrations done specifically for the novel
as opposed to illustrations stolen from google images?

8. All tour participants will receive an entry to win a hard copy of the book after publication.

Clearly no one mentioned to this "literary agent" that when you promote a book, it's common practice to send a finished copy of the book to blog reviewers unless they've asked specifically not to get one. You don't have to "win one." It's not a prize.

9. follow up interview the author if so desired, swag items, and $25 dollar gift card to Amazon.
Again, this poor soul has the idea that you have to "win" a follow up interview. I can tell you that if a blogger wants to interview one of my guyz twice, I'll happily make that happen. We're glad of the eyeballs; we're thrilled with readers and fans helping get the word out.

And don't get me started on "swag items" particularly unspecified ones. Unless the author is really well known, swag isn't quite the compelling thing you wish it were.

and the real problem: this pitch REQUIRES that any blogger talking about the book reveal the possibility of monetary compensation.

Thus: "I reviewed this book and the publisher/author/agent has offered me a chance to win an Amazon Gift Card for doing so."  Right there, you've damaged BEYOND REPAIR any kind of chance for effective publicity.

You don't buy publicity. You buy MARKETING.

10. The top five tour participants with the most traffic to the tour post will be entered into a giveaway to receive a SIGNED copy of the novel after publication
oh wow, the books you send to the guys in #9 won't be signed? That's really really funny. Again, this is just textbook clueless. This isn't even thinking about the process.

11. exclusive opportunities for ARCs by [author name redacted]. 
I'm really hoping this is a second author, not the same one we've been talking about. And again, the idea that you have to "win" a chance to get a book is ludicrous.

12. All participants, if they so desired, will be featured on the Facebook page for the author and other platforms

Because of course, we're not already going to be linking to the posts! This isn't a benefit to the blogger! This is just trying to build buzz for the author. This demonstrates a COMPLETE lack of understanding of how promotions work.

Can you imagine saying to The New York Times: hey, if you interview me, we'll feature you on our Facebook page?

(13) The biggest error of all.

This was sent to Victoria Strauss. As in PITCHED to Victoria, as if she might want to participate. Writer Beware doesn't buzz books. It's very clear this was just a mass email sent to every name some poor witless inexperienced fool could find. (I get these sometimes too, but at least I didn't get this one!)

I have go lie down with a cool cloth over my fevered brow.

*ok, recovered*

If this is YOUR agent, you need a new one.

If someone tells you that they're going to help you do a blog tour, ask to see their pitch email.

Clearly this person has invested NO time at all in research or reading books on promotion. There are some good ones.

Even reading the guidelines for submissions on review blogs will help you avoid some of these boneheaded errors.

A good pitch letter is like a good query.
It tells you what the book is about VERY concisely. It mentions category. It includes publication date. It includes blurbs if you've got them.

A good pitch package will also include: trade reviews; sample questions for an interview; author bio.

And it includes the book. ALWAYS!

A very good pitch is personalized.

I spend time every month sending out ARCs of client books. All the letters often have the same bone structure but each has some element of personalization.

Effective PR is just like effective querying.

All that time and effort y'all are investing on writing good queries is time well-spent for the next phase of your publishing career: talking about your book well.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Can you find all the errors in this v. inept book promo email?

This is an email received by our beloved Victoria Strauss who runs Writer Beware, a watchdog site that keeps track of nefarious bottom-feeders in our industry.

Can you spot all the things wrong here? (and I'm not counting the errors of syntax either)

Hint: it's more than ten. And there's one VERY big error.

(This is NOT a trick quiz!)


Hello, my name is [agent name redacted]. I am the literary agent for [author name redacted], who has a debut novel set to be published in January. 
The novel’s working title is [book title redacted], and it is a Fantasy novel geared towards children and young adults. It’s a full-length novel, totaling over 100,000 words. 
The novel is going through the final stages of editing and will be sent to a publisher soon. Because we understand that blogs may become all booked up by the time of publication, or even pre-publication, we are seeking to schedule a tour early. This tour is not strictly for blogs, we are seeking publicity on all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. 
If you choose to partake in the tour, you would be supplied with a media pack based upon the type of post or feature you would like to do. The media pack would include, but is not limited to: Advanced Reader Copies of the novel, Synopsis, Images of exclusive Illustrations done specifically for the novel, a book trailer, graphics/banners, etc.

All tour participants will receive an entry to win a hard copy of the book after publication, a follow up interview the author if so desired, swag items, and $25 dollar gift card to Amazon.

The top five tour participants with the most traffic to the tour post will be entered into a giveaway to receive a SIGNED copy of the novel after publication, a follow up interview with the author if so desired, exclusive, custom-made swag, an interview with the illustrator, $50 dollar gift card, and exclusive opportunities for ARCs by [author name redacted].

All participants, if they so desired, will be featured on the Facebook page for the author and other platforms.

We are seeking to do a 2 month long tour, starting in December of this year until the end of January 2016. There are currently openings for the following:

Guest Post

Or a combination of any of these. If you have any other ideas, please do let us know. We’re open to suggestions. If you do not have a space on your blog, and would still like to participate via social media platforms, let us know!

Thank for you for your time in reading this. If you are interested, send us a date and the type of post you’d like to do!

Post your list in the comments column.
I'll provide what I think are the errors later in the day on Tuesday 11/16/15. *checks daytimer* 11/17/15.

Second pos is up!

Friday the 13th Flash Fiction contest results!

It's been a rather surreal weekend hasn't it? I very much appreciate all of you who took the time to write entries for the contest. It felt good to have some normalcy. I hope you all felt the same.

 Herewith the results:

Special recognition for a hilarious phrase:
"they figured out how to cheat death by thinking outside the icebox"
Em-Musing 9:56am

"He’d take his lumps, but he didn't hafta eat ‘em too."
Irene Olson 11:42am

Special recognition for a turn of phrase to haunt you
"munching on a lady's finger."
BJ Muntain 10:11am

Special recognition for entries that were deliciously subtle
Kregger: 10:01am
Christina Seine 10:58am
Robert Ceres 2:07pm
Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale 7:27pm

Special recogntion for entries that paid homage to Paris
Writer of Wrongs 10:02am
Cynthia Mc 10:43am
Julie F. 12:38pm
Amy Schaefer 3:27pm
JAZ 9:09pm

Not quite a story but gorgeous writing
Timothy Lowe 10:04am

The ice-iest entry ever
Steve Forti: 10:06am

I believe we have Illicit Goings On in the comment column!
Colin Smith 10:15am

Not quite a story, but deliciously creepy
Jennifer R. Donohue 10:43am

A great sentence:
"The days become so short so fast."
Lisa Bodenheim

Special recognition to kdjames 7:46pm, who wrote what a lot of us were thinking
Ice. The snick and shush of skates across the rink in winter.
Box. The one my great-grandpa made, where Mom stored loose buttons.
Fuzz. The blanket we spread on the grass to watch fireworks on the Fourth.
Beet. My uncle the farmer, still hauling sugar beets every fall at age 88.
Cool. The light breeze drying my tears as I stand on the deck, watching the sunset, telling myself there is more good than bad in the world, more love than hate. More hope than fear.

I can't write about crime. Not today.
Today I need stories of happier times.

Here's the long list of finalists:
Amanda Capper 10:35am
S.D. King 3:15pm
Marie McKay 4:14pm
flashfriday 6:18pm
Claire 7:11pm
Nikola Vukoja 7:41pm
Karen McCoy 10:09pm
John Frain 4:12am

Here's the short list of finalists:

(1) Michael Seese 5:16pm
A beetle scurries beneath the icebox, ignoring the amorphous fuzzy gray blob lying there.

I work frantically to clean. They'll be here soon, and I want everything to be spotless. Though I do love having guests, they leave such a mess. Bit by bit, I get everything tidied up, stowing the mop scant seconds before the knock on the door. Answering, I am cool as a cucumber.

“No, officer. I don't recognize her. Mutilated, you say? That's horrible. Yes, I'll lock my doors, and report any suspicious people. Thank you.”

In time, I will find the finger under the fridge.

Only after that last sentence do you realize the guest leaving "such a mess" are not in fact the same people coming to the door.

That last sentence is like flipping an image from positive to negative: same lines, but you see everything very differently.

That's an incredible feat, particularly with so few words.

(2) Almitra Clay 5:19pm
Planting my feet again on the ice-rimmed edge of the cave, I tilt the box. Bones spill out. Deer? Bear? . . .Human? The leftovers dance and clatter downhill to their resting place on the fuzz of new Spring grass. The sprawling mess has attracted crows, and my hands now reek of jerky.

“You need to clean more often,” I scold. The words echo back from the earth.

Beet’s head snakes out of the darkness. He licks one long tooth, regarding me with the same cool stare that has sent so many grown men running. “I was saving those,” he whines.

It too me a long minute to realize what was going on here. I love that in stories. It's open to interpretation but the clues I think are important are "one long tooth" and "same cool stare."  This is a dragon in a cave.

And the perfect line is "my hands now reek of jerky" cause the meat from the bones got dried. And the bones saved.

Again, very subtle and totally evocative. And anything with a dragon has my vote.

(3) LynnRodz 7:18pm

    When they were together, people noticed.

    What does he see in her?

    I don't get it.

    He was perfume-ad-runway-beautiful, she was mean-girl-bait-boxy. As they sat together in restaurants or walked along the beach, everyone did a double take. His love came through when he smiled at her. Her admiration for him evident in her eyes.

    He walked her home.

    "You'll be-et..." Her mind started to get fuzzy. "...b-back next week, won't you?"

    "You know I will." He kissed her forehead.

    He waved before the rococo old doors of the institution closed behind his sister.

And again, the last sentence changes how we see the story. And the absolute perfection of "mean-girl-bait-boxy" creates such a clear image we don't need to know anything more.

This is beautiful writing, and a beautiful idea. I love it.

(4) Kimber 8:32pm
She is a gardener of sorts, busiest when the seasons change and night comes too early. Reaping time.

With a little hum she prunes away tangled, fuzzy weeds, clearing the way for her furrow, knife-straight and deep.

Loam filters through gloved fingers grasping at the dancing fruit. She snips roots with steel shears, and a reluctant earth gives up its harvest: a soft, fleshy beet of loud red, just silenced.

A box of ice waits to cool the sanguine produce; customers have exacting freshness standards. This is a farm-to-table operation.

She stitches up the body, now forever fallow.

Again, those small little phrases that illuminate everything so clearly: "reaping time" "sanguine produce" "forever fallow"

This is just gorgeous writing.

(5) Calorie Bombshell 10:23pm
Prospective clients are the hardest to impress, he warned.

    So I got rid of the peach fuzz above my upper lip and traded in the rusty Beetle for a Cadillac.

    Still, it’s always the same smirk, roll of the eyes, and irritating question.

    “What’s in the cooler, Mike?”

    More like a lunchbox. Vintage hand-me-down from Dad when I took over his business last month.

    Always be nice and smile, he’d say. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

    So I open it a crack and watch them scramble for their checkbooks.

    Dying for my services. Just like he said they’d be.

For all of you literalists out there, this one is going to drive you nutso, cause yes, no one knows what's in the "lunchbox." It's the McGuffin. It's the suitcase from Pulp Fiction.

But even though you don't know what it is, you know what it does.

This is wonderfully fun.

(6) Kathy Ellen Davis 10:32pm
L.T. Was trying to play it cool.
good thing he was a beet.
His face could turn red all it wanted;
no one would notice.
Peach Fuzz was just finishing up;
his one beet band,
Lettuce Turnip, the Beet,
was next.
The whole vegetable kingdom loved
his voice,
his dance moves,
and his upbeat songs.
But this was something new.
This was something he had always wanted to do;
maybe that’s why he was so nervous.
He hit the stage, took a breath, and started.
The papers the next day said
it was the best beat-boxing they’d ever heard.

Oh my god, I laughed out loud on this. "Lettuce Turnip, the Beet"!  "Best Beat Boxing!"

This is just fun. And this weekend, we needed some levity.

Of course it was very hard to choose one entry from all of these terrific finalists. In the end I had to go with the one that was subtle, and a  bit humorous, and very definitely something not seen here before.

The winner is (2) Almitra Clay 5:19pm.

Almitra, if you'll email me with your preferred mailing address, and a list of the kinds of books you like to read we'll get your prize in the mail.

Thank you to everyone who took time to write an entry. It was a lovely bit of normalcy in a very not-normal weekend.

Congratulations to the finalists! Your work amazes and delights me.