Monday, December 24, 2012

Take Two: What Christmas Means to Me

I know a lot of you were around two years ago when I blogged about this the first time, but it's a story worth repeating. As I explained in this post, the river near our home flooded a few days before Christmas back in 2010. (A few miles upriver, it actually carried whole houses off their foundations and dashed them to pieces not far downstream.) That part was horrible, but what came just after was anything but. It perfectly captures the true spirit of Christmas, so I wanted to share it with you one more time on this Christmas Eve.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, a baby who, I believe, was and is the Savior of the world. He died that we might be forgiven of our sins and return to live with our Heavenly Father, but He also lived that we might have an example, a way to follow.

The past few days have given Christmas a completely different spin this year. As you may have guessed, the picture at the top of the post is a picture of our house on Tuesday afternoon. Our neighbors took this from their front door just before they skedaddled. The water level was actually higher than this at one point--it made it past the palm trees and all the way up to the sandbags in front of the garage.

But this picture doesn’t tell the whole story. About fifteen minutes before we narrowly escaped, our friend from the nearby mesa showed up. He was there to aid in the rescue efforts, and he helped Honey Bear get the last of the sandbags in place. As they were sandbagging, he said something like, “You know you can always stay at our house, right?” Honey Bear thanked him for the offer and said we’d probably take him up on it.

Here’s the thing, though: We beat our friend to his house, which meant he probably hadn’t spoken to his wife before we showed up on their porch. But when she saw us climbing out of the car, she met us on the doorstep and asked, “Do you guys need a place to stay? We’re not really ready for company, but we can be in five minutes!”

As I sat in their living room that night, staring at the twinkling lights of their real, live Christmas tree, a few verses from Matthew came to mind:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When we showed up on their porch that wet and lonely afternoon, I felt like “one of the least of these my brethren.” My pants and shoes were soaked, my spirits even more so, but our dear friends didn’t hesitate. They gave us a place to stay. They gave us hope.

That’s what Christmas means to me this year. It means living the kind of life that precious baby lived--the kind of life our friends lived Tuesday afternoon--so that, when He comes again, we will be like Him and so abide the day.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. I really think they made a difference. May you and yours have a beautiful holiday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Agent Sisters

Once upon a time, I sent Amy Sonnichsen an e-mail. We were unagented, and since we'd gotten requests from Kate Schafer Testerman in the past, I allowed myself to imagine that she offered to both of us. Our writing styles were similar, I thought; it didn't seem too far outside the realm of possibilities. So we'd become agent sisters, and Kate would sell both our books, and we'd go on book tours together and sit side-by-side at those little folding tables and foist each other's books on unsuspecting bystanders.

I'm absolutely THRILLED to report we're a third of the way there.

So hop over to Amy's post and congratulate her on signing with the indomitable Kate. I don't know if we'll ever go on book tours together or foist each other's books on unsuspecting bystanders, but hey, it's fun to dream. And as they say on South Pacific, "You've got to have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

(For the record, I loathe that movie and especially that song, but it does make a good point:) )

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bullies, First Days, and Magical Realism

After poring over Pitch Wars applications for the last couple of weeks, I had a few thoughts I wanted to share with you. Keep in mind, I was reading applications for MG manuscripts only, so I don’t think these points necessarily extend to writers in other categories (except for the definition of magical realism, of course).
On the whole, I was quite impressed with the MG applications in this contest. Of the 49 applications I received, I ended up hanging on to about 25% of them, kicking another 50% into the “Up for Grabs” folder, and flagging the other 25% as not quite there yet. I can’t remember the last time I thought 75% of the queries I read had potential, so that’s quite a feat in and of itself. And now for a few more trends I noticed:
1. A TON of the opening pages involved bullies or first days of school (or both), so if you’re going to use one of those motifs, you shouldn’t rely on it to be your hook. I’m not saying you can’t have a bully or a first day of school in your first chapter; in fact, several of my favorite applications involved bullies or first days of school in one way or another. Just know that, if you do, you’re not alone, so you’re going to have to do something special with it.
2. A query needs more than a paragraph-long summary. I know a lot of websites, including some prominent agency ones, encourage writers to use this query formula: one paragraph for business (title, category and genre, word count, etc.), one for summary, and one for bio. But I found I didn’t get a very good sense of the plot if the summary was only a paragraph long. Specifics are the lifeblood of a query, and you don’t have enough room to cram very many into a single paragraph. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the summary in a query should be at least two paragraphs and, in some cases, maybe three or four. So long as everything fits on one single-spaced page (and you haven’t overly adjusted your margins), you’re good.
3. No one really knows what magical realism is. I’m not sure I do, either, but I feel like I have a better handle on it than I did even six months ago, so I wanted to share some of the ideas that have been bouncing around in my brain. I’m pretty sure none of the magical realism applications I received actually fit within that genre, so hopefully, this will help.
The problem is, magical realism is a misnomer; magical realism is NOT a realistic story with magical elements. Well, it is, but the definition has more to it than that. In general, magical realism involves an Unexplained Phenomenon--hereafter known as the UP--that actually exists outside, not inside, the story. Put another way, the UP creates a frame for the story that affects the main character’s perspective while leaving everything else unchanged. Here are a few other characteristics of magical realism:
--The main character is usually the only person who can even tell the UP is happening. She could try to explain it to the people around her, but since there’s no evidence of the UP outside her own head, they probably wouldn’t believe her.
--Even though the main character can tell the UP is happening, he can’t control it. By the end of the story, he understands it no better than he did at the beginning, though he’s probably learned something from this change in perspective. That’s one reason why magical realism is a really tough genre to write in: because you have to get your readers to completely suspend their disbelief without ever finding out why or how the UP was occurring.
--If your story involves an object, a creature, a physical transformation, or superpowers, it’s probably NOT magical realism. Contemporary and/or urban fantasy, certainly, but not magical realism.
By those criteria, the best examples of magical realism I’ve encountered are Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL and Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY. And that old movie with Bill Murray, Groundhog Day. I saw it again on TV a few weeks ago, and I was like, “Holy cow! This is magical realism!” :)
That’s all I’ve got. Hope you have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pitch Wars Pit Stop

Just popping in to remind you that the Pitch Wars teams are up on Brenda's blog, so definitely head over there and check those out.

Also, I wanted to let everyone know that I kept notes on all the applications that were sent directly to me, so if you'd like a little feedback on your query and/or first five, feel free to e-mail me at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com with your name and manuscript title. (If your application was one of my favorites (that is, if I contacted you last week), you don't need to e-mail me again. I already drafted you an e-mail and will send it as soon as I wake up:) ) I do plan to share some general thoughts on the applications I received (nothing specific, mind you, just overall trends I noticed), hopefully within the next week, so keep an eye on the blog for that.

Last but not least, to those of you who were selected, congratulations! And to those of you who weren't, keep in mind that this was only one contest, one moment in time. During one of the rounds of "An Agent's Inbox" last year, I posted an entry that I absolutely fell in love with, even though The Agent that month didn't particularly care for it. A few months later, it showed up again in Authoress's Baker's Dozen Agent Auction, where it received multiple bids from multiple agents. A few weeks later, the writer was fielding multiple offers from those agents (and others), and a few months after THAT, the writer was signing a contract with one of the Big Six Big Four. So one day, one contest, doesn't tell the whole story. You never know what might be waiting just around the bend...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jennie Goloboy

We’re starting the week off in grand fashion, with another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent.” Today’s interview features Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary, who also posts regularly on her agency’s blog. Check out her answers to the blogging-agent questions, then meet me down at the bottom for details on the interactive part. Enjoy!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

JG: My procedure is to request the first three chapters, and if I like those, I will request the full. I request the first three chapters for about one manuscript in ten, but I am much more stringent about requesting the full. I read everything that I request.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

JG: I request the manuscript because the idea seems innovative and appealing, and because the query was well-written. I just did a whole series of blog posts at the Red Sofa website about queries I see too often, some of which surprised me! (Girls with magic necklaces?) At the moment, I'm especially interested in history that would appeal to a broad audience, and in innovative epic fantasy for adults. I particularly like funny manuscripts.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

JG: One comment I frequently give to authors is that I didn't connect with the protagonist. I want to know your hero inside and out; I want your hero to have problems that I care about. I don't want your hero to be fate's hand puppet.

Also, your hero should almost never start the manuscript by waking up, unless he's waking up with a gun to the head.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

JG: If I think it's not perfectly ready to go, in general, I'll request revisions first. I want to be sure that my clients react well to criticism, and can fix a manuscript according to editorial suggestions. If they don't, I'd prefer to find that out before I agree to represent them!

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

JG: How do I fit in with your current clients? In general, where do you plan to send my book? I'm not going to tell you names of specific editors, but I'd be happy to discuss my  strategy.

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JG: Unfortunately, that's still top-secret--please keep an eye on!

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JG: I've never been a big fan of dystopias (unless they're funny dystoptias), and I get a lot of them!

I never get enough truly funny manuscripts, and I would love to represent more non-fiction that isn't a memoir, or a thinly fictionalized memoir.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JG: Send a query letter via e-mail to, please!

KV: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JG: While I don't ask for it, it has often helped me quickly decide whether I like the writer's voice, which is very important to me. I think it's led to more quick rejections than requests.

Thank you, Ms. Goloboy, for these answers. Funny books are always on my radar, too:)

And here’s where you come in! If you have a question for Ms. Goloboy, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll pop in a few times throughout the day to answer any questions she finds down there, leaving her answers in the comments also. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EST (or 2:00 p.m. PST), but until then, have at it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pitch Wars: The Agents

And here are the agents who will be cruising the finalists’ entries and requesting their favorites! If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is (and if you don’t, I’m willing to bet you’re not on Twitter), definitely check out last week’s post for more information. WE MENTORS WILL BE ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS UNTIL 8:00 P.M. ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 5 (which gives you twelve more hours than we previously announced; we’re just piling on the time, aren’t we?), so get those applications in!

Jordy Albert (@bluedragonfly81) of The Booker Albert Agency

Jordy is on the look out for Romance (contemporary, historical/Regency, and paranormal). YA contemporary/historical or dystopian, sci-fi/fantasy with romance elements. She's also open to YA GLBT within those genres. She'd love to see unique, well-developed plots featuring time travel, competitions, or travel.

Elise Capron (@EliseCapron) of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Elise is interested in serious character-driven literary fiction, well-written narrative nonfiction, and short story collections. (Note: She is not interested in Fantasy, young-adult/middle-grade, picture books, romance, and sci-fi.) She aims to work with writers who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience.

Drea Cohane of The Rights Factory

Drea is currently seeking: fiction, memoir, crime, non-fiction and YA. Her roster consists of British, American, and Canadian clients. International talent is welcome.

Natalie Fischer Lakosil (@Natalie_Lakosil) of Bradford Literary Agency

Natalie is looking for commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), and upmarket women’s fiction. Specific likes include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, and middle grade with heart.

Louise Fury (@louisefury) of L. Perkins Agency

Louise is seeking teen Sci-Fi and Young Adult horror. She's also on the hunt for deep, dark contemporary YA and select Middle Grade fiction with a literary feel--it must be realistic and thought provoking and the characters must be authentic and original. Louise loves horror and romance, especially Regency and Victorian.

Brittany Howard (@brittanydhoward) and Michelle Johnson (@MJsRetweet) of Corvisiero Literary Agency

Brittany and Michelle are teaming up to look for Adult, YA, and MG manuscripts.

Victoria Marini (@LitAgentMarini) of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc.

Victoria is looking for literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging Literary fiction and mysteries / suspense, commercial women's fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ).

Jennifer Mishler (@literarycounsel) of Literary Counsel

Jennifer is seeking Young Adult Fantasy, Young Adult Contemporary, Young Adult Literary, and Young Adult Historical.

Jodell Sadler (@picturebklunch) of Sadler-Caravette Children’s Literary

Jodell is interested in YA, MG (especially funny) , fiction and nonfiction, book proposals, and picture books. She will also coach writers wanting to self publish. She simply loves a well-paced story that moves her between joy and tears.

Katie Shea (@AgentShea) of Donald Maass Literary Agency

Katie specializes in fiction and memoir, especially women’s fiction and commercial-scale literary fiction, and realistic YA. She is most interested in coming-of-age stories and stories of unique relationships.

Jessica Sinsheimer (@jsinsheim) of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Jessica is seeking Literary, Women's, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Fiction.

Andrea Somberg (@andreasomberg) of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Andrea's looking for the following categories: Fiction; literary, commercial, womens fiction, romance, thrillers, mystery, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, young adult, middle grade.

Kerry Sparks (@Kerry_Sparks) of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

Kerry is looking for Young Adult and Middle-Grade fiction, both commercial and literary. She tends to shy away from werewolves, zombies, faeries, and the like, but she’ll read anything with a fresh voice and compelling characters. She is particularly keen on contemporary YA, quirky MG, books with a strong cinematic element.

Suzie Townsend (@sztownsend81) of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.

Suzie represents adult and children's fiction. In adult, she's specifically looking for romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy). In Childrens' she loves YA (all subgenres) and is dying to find great Middle Grade projects (especially something akin to the recent movie SUPER 8).

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg (@BookaliciousPam) of Larsen Pomada Literary Agents

Pam represents young adult and middle grade children’s book authors, and adult romance authors.

P.S. You’ll have to forgive me for not having the links set up this morning. ’Tis the season to be busy, and time just got away from me…