Monthly Archives: February 2009

Getting the Skinny on Literary Agents

While at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference, I picked up on some great websites for writers negotiating the labyrinth of the writing/publishing world.  Here are a few of the websites, as recommended by literary agent Michael Bourret:

Query Tracker (database of literary agents)

Preditors & Editors

Writer’s Market


With these sites, you can research literary agents, glean tips for submitting queries, find job postings and more.

Do you have more valuable sites to add to this list?  Let me know…


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US to lift 1991 ban on Media Coverage of American flag-draped coffins

Check out this Washington Post article on the plan to lift the 1991 ban on media coverage of American flag draped coffins arriving from overseas at Dover Air Force Base.

My first instinct was to say, “Good for us.”  Despite the legions of US families touched by military service and the realities of war, I think so many of us are still quite distanced from what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our country.  Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for us to absorb those images of flag draped coffins…reiterating the sacrifice that is going on overseas on our behalf.  Perhaps it would encourage a few more Americans to write to their own congressmen and congresswomen with the plea, “Please bring them home.”

Writing from a mother’s perspective, however, and with children who will not be of military service age for quite some time, I can’t help but wonder:  how would a mother (or father) feel about knowing their son or daughter’s final return home was captured on film?  Would they feel like their child’s death-in-service would somehow be slightly vindicated?  Would media coverage of their son or daughter’s casket bring honor, or a sense of intrusion?

I’m curious to hear feedback on this issue.  My mind is still not completely made up.  (Liz, what does Greg say about this?)


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On Alice Sebold

On Alice Sebold

She glides into the room

like a ghost wearing sandals,

a modern-day snow white

(skin as white as snow,

ebony black hair,

blood red lips…

you get the picture.)

Her humility is palpable,

her celebrity, obvious.

Carrying a pink nylon bag

which reminds me of parachute pants

and overnight camp toiletries

she approaches the podium with a story to tell,

a story much worse than the huntsman,

the forest,

the wicked queen.

Pulling hard from her water bottle

at every turn of the page,

she recounts a story of exposure

and will

and thievery.

An hour passes and the audience is captivated, awed, silenced.

She starts to talk about her dog.

At the insinuation of bravery

she retreats, side steps, retreats.

The curtain raised, she becomes a victim, once again,

vulnerable when faced

with the will of another,

bearing the weight of admiration.

She side steps. She retreats. Curtain drawn.

(for more on Alice Sebold, go here)

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Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference: Post #5

Well, that’s it.  My first-ever writer’s conference is over.

It was awesome.

Today ended with as big of a bang as the first day began.  After yet another wonderful series of excellent lectures and workshops, I finally had the opportunity to meet with Literary Agent Michael Bourret.  It really was lovely and, in sync with all the buzz I’d been hearing over the past four days from others who presented to Michael before me, he truly is comfortably enjoyable to talk with.

An hour after my discussion with Mr. Bourret, I had the distinct honor of listening to writer Alice Sebold (author of The Lovely Bones, Lucky and The Almost Moon) read from her second book, Lucky.  She read for an hour.  It was spectacular.


Back to the hotel, thinking I was ready to collapse into bed (however, if you notice the time stamp on this post, you will realize I am, yet again, insomnic at a ridiculous hour) I called Andrew to update him on my day.  And then, this:  the news that trumped all my news–our oldest child, our daughter, lost her first tooth!

And now, I leave you with a few favorite quotes from today’s conference proceedings, and (hopefully) bid you a good night:

From Brock Clarke, (author of An Arsonists Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England, What We Won’t Do, The Ordinary White Boy, and Carrying the Torch:  Stories) while discussing “The Autobiographical Impulse in Fictional Writing” ~

“Distort without destroying.”

“The people we love were not put here on earth to be placed in our work.”

“There’s a sickening devotion to biography in our culture.”

“You have an obligation in writing fiction not to replicate the world, but to improve it.”

“We go to books, not because they are true, but because they are after truth.”

“Fiction is an act of self criticism; self condemnation.”

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Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference, Post #4

While down here at this conference, I’ve started to make a very bold and, yes, probably very obvious link between my interest in writing and my work with expectant/new mothers through my childbirth preparation program, Pregnancy to Parenthood.

Just as a woman spends months (and years, sometimes) preparing for motherhood; growing the child within, cultivating her own maternal instincts from some previously unknown source, so it is, too, for a writer: the birth of a novel, poem, memoir or screenplay is very much a work of slow and methodical gestation that, when released into the world is both a traumatic and exhilarating event.  This, of course, if why writers call their craft “art.”  And can we say anything less for our children?

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the conference today:

“The idea that good dialog mirrors actual dialog is a lie.” – Erin McGraw (EM)

“That’s one well-deployed adverb!” – EM

“All [published] books need the blessing of the two high priests: marketing and promotion.”  – Lit. Agent powerhouse Richard Abate (RA) speaking of how well a book will based on how much marketing/publicity is put behind it.

Re: memoir ~ “The bar gets set higher each year.  Has your life been so miserable that it trumps what came before it?” – RA

‘It is over time that we become willing to share our scars with our lovers.’ – workshop participant

” After the roller coaster ride of publishing your first book…then you feel a quiet joy.” – Elizabeth Searle (ES)

“I finally realized, I wasn’t always going to please everyone with what I wrote.” – Danzy Senna (DS)

“It’s not about my writing as a product, it’s about my life as an artist.” – DS

“Every writer is a survivor of despair.” – C.E. Poverman

“Every writer who’s published a book has about three more on the floor that the dog’s sitting on.” – C.E.P

“All the young dudes carry the news.” – Elizabeth Pearle quoting David Bowie


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Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference: Post #3

wow.  Wow.  Wow.

Man, am I surrounded by some terrific writers.  And some writers, quite frankly, who are so far and beyond out of my league by way of intellect and pontification that to say I am humbled would be a miserable understatement.

I started off the day listening to literary agent Michael Bourret of Dystel, Goderich Literary Management agency discuss the various pearls of how to land an agent.  Michael is funny, charming, and honest.  (Plus, he wears quite fashionable jeans and shoes that, I’m sure, cost more than the twelve pairs in my closet all put together.)

Some of my favorite snippets of advice offered by Mr. Bourret included:

– when writing query letters, be bold but professional
– Do NOT include the word count of your manuscript (especially if it’s, like, 100,000+ words long!)
– a writer needs to view their work as both a craft and a business to be successful
– at least for this particular agent and agency, honesty, professionalism, and mutual respect are HUGE and, most certainly, ought to be reciprocal.
(in Michael’s words:  “Life’s too short to work for assholes.”)

As the morning went along, I also participated in an incredible workshop with author, actress, playwright Tania Katan who is a fantastic teacher and has enough energy to light an opera house.  We specifically worked on honing the art of dialog and, as luck would have it, I was able to offer up two of the characters from my (hopefully) forthcoming book for an exercise the entire class participated in:  Character Sketching. (Think of a brief FBI interrogation that nit picks the nuts & bolts of your characters’… characteristics.)

Next up for me was a workshop by Percival Everett from which I took several key points:

– whether or not an element in your fictional piece happened in real life does not truly matter.  What matters is whether or not it seems true on the page.
– Our job, as fiction writers, is to make art.
– “You find truth when you come to realize what art can give you…which is everything.” – P. Everett
– “Novels…literary fiction…doesn’t have any rules.” – P. Everett
– As writers, we cannot hide from ourselves.  It is impossible, in one way or another, to leave ourselves out of the story.

Over lunch time, my small group critique workshop got underway, led by Erin McGraw (whom I also heard read from her new novel The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard) I had the lovely opportunity to hear five other writers discuss the fifteen pages of my new manuscript I’d submitted for their reading, and benefit from some lovely suggestions.

Lastly, and before more readings, a Mexican restaurant dinner with several fellow conference goers (at which point I drank exactly one third of a margarita and felt like I’d drunk three) and post conference social time, I attended a Writing for Social Change workshop in which five poets/essayists (Kazim Ali, Martha Collins, A. Van Jordan, Mary Sojourner and Nancy Mairs) spoke of their experiences with social activism and writing…and how those two endeavors need not be mutually exclusive or inclusive.

And now, off to do some more work on my own manuscript before the muse, the inspiration, or the coffee burns out for the night.

More tomorrow…

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Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference: Post #2

I feel like I ought to be writing about how beat I am after the first day of the conference but, mostly, I’m energized.

This morning, I spent an hour walking on the hotel treadmill, looking over the four day conference itinerary. I have to say, I’m terribly impressed with the potential of what will unfold here on the Arizona State University Campus–Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Before Saturday evening, I will sit in on workshops like:

– Publishing: “How to get a Literary Agent”

-Drama: “Listen Up!” (perfecting the art of creating dialog in your writing)

– Fiction: “Navigating Fictive Distance” (how to achieve enough distance from fact to make a story work)

– Writers in the Community: “Writing Toward Social Change”

– Multigenre: “Body Talk” (tapping into the complex bonds between language and the human form)

…and the list goes on.

Highlights of today:
I had the pleasure of hearing author, playwright and performer Tania Katan read from her memoir My One-Night Stand With Cancer from which she has developed a one-woman show which she performs to thrilled audiences around the country. A hilarious, poignant lesbian married to a Mormon woman, she enticed the audience into stitches while reading from her new essay about the Pioneer Camp her wife, Angela, tried to persuade Tania to sign up for. Included in the essay, a letter supposedly written to the Pioneer Camp depicting why, exactly, they ought to consider inviting a lesbian couple to be apart of the volunteer staff, Katan proclaimed, “[we would] be churning butter with irony!” and “it’d be like putting the ‘queer’ in pioneer!”

Later in the day, after some workshop and socialization time, we were treated to readings by fiction writer, William Henry Lewis , and poet Martha Collins–both captivating the audience with their unique style and story telling fortitude.

At the end of the day, I was privileged enough to dine with three other fellow conference attendees: a mother of two, memoirist and essayist who has attended this very same conference for years; a ballroom dancer, ex-FBI agent-turned private investigator-turned fictional writer; and a gay, Polish, Italian divorcee with two grown children and a knack for writing creative non-fiction. If I’m beginning to feel boring here, it’s for good reason!

So, for now, I will dig into the remaining fifty pages of editing work on my own manuscript, turn in for a little shut-eye, and high tail it back to campus tomorrow morning for another awesome day!

P.S. ~ If you’re curious about the other sorts of workshops, etc. that go on at a conference like this, check this out.

P.S.S ~ It was 65 degrees and sunny here today. There were actual songbirds singing in the palm trees overhead and real-live oranges and grapefruit growing in the trees all over campus! What a change from the snow and cold of February in Montana!



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