Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bias Against Women? What The Red Tent Teaches Us

If judged by the attendance at conferences, women dominate the world of writing, but is there a “bias against women in the workplace” and why?

We hear over and over again about a woman who unsuccessfully sued her employer because she was earning 79 cents to the dollar.  There are studies showing that people preferred unseen male bosses over females despite hearing the same description about each.  In addition, transgender individuals have found themselves to be assumed better leaders after becoming men. 

Is the U.S. misogynous?  I have a different, and likely unpopular, view. 

Could it be that this bias is inborn from the historical rolls that men and women played?  If you’ve read The Red Tent, you’ll find that women, too, are assumed to be better than men at some things, things that are, in fact, more important than money to the existence of our species - for example, making childbirth happen. 

Yes, we are assumed to be more intuitive, more empathetic, more persistent through long-lasting pain.  Could a man endure child birth?  In science fiction, maybe.  The uterus is strong and flexible.  In the world of plants, bamboo has that distinction and is revered as a deity by some in Asia.  Are women stronger? 

I think the argument that women are assumed to be poor leaders has its own bias (seemingly relevant to the world we’ve created for ourselves but forgetting the other side of the coin). 

The perspective of some transgendered people comes from a source that has its own slant.  Many women, by their admission, haven’t fit in as women so may not have experienced as much of the up-side of being women and having their power.  The notion that the world is biased against women makes victims out of people who are important through their naturally given powers, and assumes money and power on the job are the most important powers. 

Workplace leadership may be judged to be a good measure of success – now with the breakdown of the family and the trend toward having fewer kids.  We want to be labeled as “equal” in the workplace which is, perhaps, the closest thing in our everyday life to the role of the buffalo hunter of the past. 

I'm dubious of anecdotal observations in some studies that fail to address the confounding issues.  Always a devil's advocate, I studied "studies" and the resulting stats.  It seems the proven inequality results from an assumption, often a preconceived idea of men and women being born with exactly the same natural abilities. 

There will always be women assumed to be so-so managers who are actually the top of the heap, men assumed to be the better bread-winners yet are so empathetic and nurturing that they are the far better parents to stay home with their children and help bring babies into the world.  But the unconscious biases may not be easily explained as a pernicious undercurrent of prejudice.  Might it be nature rather than nurture? 
In some ways women have it better today.  Flippantly I can joke that women have evolved faster to fit in our world.  Females can be nurturing and yet happily attack fields previously dominated by men, even encouraged through programs to bring science and leadership into their worlds.  Boys, however, are not allowed the nature, aren’t just encouraged to play with dolls, they are not allowed rough play and are forced to put their toy guns away, be more feminine when dealing with the world. Women are being allowed to expand, manliness is being stifled and even reviled as barbaric.  I'd rather be a woman in this day and age. 

 I think it’s a disservice to ignore the strength of nature and approach feminism as a fight against victimization.  Why not open the doors to all, acknowledging that the unconscious biases are not malevolent but innate.  Why not put more emphasis on the successes of women that in fact outshine those of men? 

The sensitivity serves women writers well, think Rowling .  And step aside Stephen King, the recent queen of fiction is Stephenie Meyer.  The stay-at-home mother who wrote Twilight accounted for more than 15 percent of all books sold in the U.S. In 2010.  
(These thoughts were inspired by Author Maria Popova who referenced writings by NPR science writer Shankar Vedantam about biases and their effects on our lives.  Popova argued  that those biases hold women back in the workplace.  My reaction to Popova’s take on the issue is clearly contrary to modern day feminism.  I think, however, that some who call themselves feminists may be ignoring the other side, maybe a more powerful side.)


Sunday, November 23, 2014

My (Not so Secret) Graphic Design for Friends, Part Two

As I mentioned in my October blog, in my past life, when I worked full-time at a day job, I enjoyed graphic design, so I splurged a number of years ago and purchased Photoshop. Since then I've created graphics for my own books and short stories, including business cards, postcards, book trailers, posters, and ebook covers.

I've also enjoyed creating images for a few friends, and today I'm sharing more of that work!

Here's my most recent effort, a bookmark for Shannon Baker featuring the three books in her Nora Abbott mystery series!

Shannon Baker offers readers a deft mix of both important contemporary issues and the 
timeless spiritual traditions of the Hopi.  For those of us who hunger for the kind of novel 
Tony Hillerman used to write so well, this promising new series may just fill the bill. 
– William Kent Krueger, Bestselling author of the Cork O’Conner Mystery Series

Then there's Paul Flanders and his novel, Aspire.  Here's the full jacket for the paperback version.

On the earth plane Ernie Colstad, a high school English teacher, is grief stricken 
when his favorite student commits suicide. On the spiritual plane, his two guardian 
angels try to help Ernie find the fortitude to deal with the crisis and conflicts with 
the school administration in order to improve his chances to transcend to their tier.

And here's one of Paul's short stories, Learning to Lead.

Oh, how I love books!

~ Janet Fogg

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Over lunch this week, my sisters of the quill brainstormed with me about how to make my protagonist a more interesting, fun character to write.  Right now she’s a bit like Silvia Plath if she had been a cook.  She has a sordid past with baggage.  She’s a media-shy amateur sleuth, and that poses problems for her and between her and her ex.  She has a career that allows her to cross paths into red herrings and the killer, an expertise that is intimately connected with the plot and solving the main story question.  But something is still missing, something that separates her further from being me. 
I’m not whining that I’m bland or that I lack a third dimension.  I am, however, not a good fiction character because I’m extremely risk averse, which means I don’t walk into trouble or take on anything that a good girl scout would avoid (ironically I contradicted that by choosing to be a writer which challenges me every moment with the ultimate obstacle course, but that’s another post). 

It wouldn’t fit to power my sleuth up with a “thing” like Columbo’s outfit, complete with cigar and rumpled raincoat, unusual garb for a homicide detective.  It worked for him because it fit with the deceptively bumbling way he caught criminals. 

It can’t be as campy as Marty Mcfly’s inability to tolerate being called a chicken by Biff in Back to the Future.  That was a cartoonish story that could manage a “thing” that allowed for such an in-your-face flaw.
It wouldn’t fit my character to have more of a behind closed doors “thing” like Walter White’s choice to make meth in order to afford cancer treatment.  What was a sympathetic motivation became a dark “thing” indeed.
Mine is a different kind of story altogether with its own needs.  Other than my protagonist, I feel I have a grip on others who populate my story.  I’m happy with my other two POV characters, my secondary characters and even my red herrings.
The maddening impasse is with my darned amateur sleuth.  I need to step far outside my skin, outside my family culture to enjoy writing about her.  From the beginning, I gave her many of my traits so I could relate to her.  I’m somewhat shy, unless forced into a situation where I have to be gregarious.  My character is shy to the point of preferring isolation from the general public.  I’m a cookbook author.  She’s a culinary instructor and food scholar.  It is handy to know my way around a kitchen for her sake.  But she needs something more. 
To be relatable, and fascinating, I want her to be more than simply a heroine with laudable intentions, a pillar of her community, someone with impeccable ethics with no baggage clouding her judgment.  Who in my sphere is that generic and unsurprising?  Would I admire a bland friend like that?  Well, maybe my next door neighbor; predictability is comforting when it comes to the one who checks in on me if I’ve accidentally leave my garage door open all night.  But even he, behind closed doors, isn’t likely to be exactly what I expect.  And what does my protagonist do behind closed doors?  That’s what I need to figure out.  What’s her “thing”????
The sisters toyed with a few ideas and Stormy wondered if my character’s consequential flaw might be that she always tells the truth, that she’s compelled to do so because she believes that hiding a truth from her father led to a delay in finding her mother who disappeared when she was a child.  But as I thought through this interesting idea, I discovered that always telling the truth doesn’t work with some aspects of the plot.  That’s because of how the story unfolds (including a scene in which she chooses not to scare her daughter with the “truth” of their plane’s mechanical problems).  I need to allow room for skirting the truth, yet she could be painfully conflicted about it.  She believes that one truth as a child led to her mother’s disappearance and a lie led to her mother’s death.  So confessions and a fibs both led her to falsely believe she’d set dangerous things in motion when she was still in elementary school.  The duality is a nuanced trait for a 350 page book.  It could be absorbed by the page unless in narrative she is often waxing worried over decisions about telling the truth… It could easily be overdone.  Maybe my skill level isn’t quite there. 
I continue to brainstorm:
Some lie too much.
Some tell too many truths.
When you are sad, even a broken egg is too much to bear, let alone talk honestly about.  No.  No.  Inky.  That is too Silvia Plath.    
How do you find your “thing”?   -  inky


Thursday, October 23, 2014

My (Not so Secret) Graphic Designs for Friends

In my past life, when I worked full-time at a day job, I enjoyed graphic design, so I splurged a number of years ago and purchased Photoshop. Since then I've created graphics for my own books and short stories, including business cards, postcards, book trailers, posters, and ebook covers.

I've also enjoyed creating images for a few friends, and for my next few blogs I thought I'd share some of that work!

Paul Flanders has published a number of short stories, and here are three of the covers I created for him. Paul's novel, Aspire, will soon be available on Amazon. You can learn more about Paul and his writing on his website.

Then there's Dave Jackson's new book, On a Dark Desert Highway

Newlyweds Don and Randi Bell spent their honeymoon touring California —a convertible, the ocean, wineries, seat-of-the-pants romance, and now on to Vegas for the grand finale. The stretch of desert proves longer and more tiring than either of them had expected and as night falls, lodging sounds wise. 

Along comes a resort, glimmering in the middle of nowhere. At first, Randi and Don feel they’ve happened upon a best-kept secret because it’s crammed with bedazzled tourists, yet there’s no mention of this cheap and luxurious getaway on the internet. After a complimentary two night’s stay, pampered beyond their wildest dreams, the couple needs to get home.

Car troubles delay their departure then it becomes clear that messages to the outside world are being tampered with. The feasts and dances in which the guests partake are becoming increasingly alarming and by the time Don and Randi discover the horrible secret about the hotel, it’s too late.

Inspired by lyrics from the iconic rock anthem Hotel California, On a Dark Desert Highway delves deeper into the macabre experience that Don Henley teased us with back in 1976. It’s a tribute to the beloved songwriter and the Eagles, a ghost story that haunts us every time a DJ spins their classic hit.

With influences from The Shining and Fantasy Island, On a Dark Desert Highway packs a curve never done before in the paranormal genre that will both impress and shock the reader.

And last year I designed and created a book trailer for Dave's Tattoo Rampage.

Hope you've enjoyed these peeks at a few of my now (not so secret) graphic design efforts!

~ Folio

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Old Dog

By Nib

I miss my daughter. She’s all grown up and living hundreds of miles away from me. This is the kid who always makes me laugh. She often gives wise counsel well beyond her years. She’s smart and interesting. But what I’m missing most about her today is her youth.

Because simply by being young, she understands technical things is a way I fear I never will. I remember a time when I could keep up. I actually could program my VCR. I was a fairly early adopter of computer technology, researching online when we had dial-up connections. I had one of the first bag phones. But somewhere along the line, technology overtook me, ran me down and crushed me under its boots.

It worked out fine, though, since my daughter lived with me. She could teach me how to use the remote and DVR shows. She synced my iPod and programed the heater. But she moved on several years ago and I have lapsed into laziness, falling ever further behind. I quit using my iPod and since we moved to rural Nebraska and don’t have fancy TV service that would allow me to record shows, I settle for Netflix and Amazon (only doable because my daughter bought me a Roku device and my super-smart husband set it up).

But things are fixing to change around here. It all started a few months ago. A friend published an audio book and asked me to give it a listen. So I had to figure out how to download audio books onto my phone. Man, that opened up a whole new world for me. I had used books on tape and CD forever, but now I could listen to books anywhere!

Then my good friend and fellow Midnight Inker, Mark Stevens, kept talking about podcasts writers would find interesting. He started a new column in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter and his first recommendation is Reading and Writing Podcasts.

 I’d been listening to a few podcasts from NPR for a couple of years so I figured I could do this, too. Mark explained the podcasts were an easy download from iTunes and free.

Okay, first step: download an ap on my phone since I have an Android, not iPhone. Except the aps won’t download. On the website, it tells me it’s installed but on my phone, it’s in perpetual downloading mode. For hours and hours. Two different aps, same result. Several attempts (that old definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results) and nothing. Next step: find old iPod. How many times have we moved since I last used that thing? Too long.

Third step: borrow husband’s shuffle. Plug it into my computer, download the podcasts onto my computer and sync shuffle to iTunes. Except, it won’t sync. Read online guides. See nothing in the instruction illustrations that looks similar to the screens iTunes is showing. Curse like a sailor.

Two hours later, after much frustration, and temptation to start shooting whiskey at 10 A.M., I have a fully loaded shuffle. I have no idea how I did it. I’m pretty sure I can’t replicate the process.

I have a plan, though. When I finish listening to the podcasts, I’m going to buy my daughter a plane ticket to see me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Agents Want

I've attended dozens of writing conferences since 1994.  There I meet agents who openly talk about industry needs.  Most agents tell me that unless one has a very topical thriller, they look for:
1) voice
2) a dynamite start with an interesting inciting incident
3) fascinating characters
4) flawless writing
5) and that a plot can be flawed if the above are all in place.
Tinkers is a literary novel by Paul Harding that has virtually no plot but an amazing lyrical voice.  It breaks every rule yet won the Pulitzer Prize.  Sister Stormy introduced me to this book.

Salman Rushdie has another remarkable voice (Midnight's Children). The plot is hard to follow and yet readers are drawn to it by his new and fresh way of letting one share his world and mind.  Sister Stormy, once again loaned me this book, along with the Spark Notes because of its elusive plot.  - Inkpot

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Heroes make me cry

I've cried many times for the men of the 359th Fighter Group, shedding tears for men who were killed in action 70 years ago. Capt. Wayne N. Bolefahr is one such man.  Capt. Bolefahr flew with the 368th Fighter Squadron from April 1943 through 10 June 1944, when he was KIA.  Last week I posted this text on the 359th's Facebook page:

"On this early 10 June mission, the only claims were an electric loco and several goods wagons strafed by Fogg and his flight. But this was the opening of an eventful day. The only mission actively resented by the pilots as “a suicide job” came up next: escort on the deck of four PRU (Photographic Reconnaissance Unit) P-38s to the Antwerp area. The PRU pilots said they had not been able to get any planes back from the heavily defended Lowlands. The 368th was ordered to take them in. Colonel Tyrrell, briefing, warned of the flak and told the pilots they could do little good attempting to intervene: keep the enemy off the PRU and let them brave the flak.

"But the compulsion of the West Pointer’s code of duty, honor, country led Captain Wayne Norbert Bolefahr, beau ideal of the 368th, to do more than that. As the squadron swept in over the Scheldt with the four P-38s they came under a staggering barrage: there were automatic weapons emplaced everywhere along the winding coasts and the railroads, the heavy guns were in motion at extreme slant ranges. Bolefahr, slim, dark, kindly, courteous, a soldier in whom the sense of duty replaced the killer instinct he totally lacked, felt compelled to intervene. He was there. The Air Force wanted the pictures. So all along that blazing route he flew in the van, firing at every emplacement, drawing the enemy flak while the camera-Lightnings went off to the side, making their low obliques. It was magnificent; it was also death. “Bo” survived until 1410, four miles N of Antwerp, when his aircraft flamed under a hail of hits and augured in from 100 feet. Tom McGeever’s P-51 was badly clobbered, too, but he got back to Manston. All four PRUs came home with, the group hoped, the pictures of whatever it was they wanted. On the way back, four locos were destroyed and another damaged, but it was a saddened group of pilots who sat numbly in the lounge at Wretham Hall that night, and the impact of Bo’s loss fell heavily on every man and officer on the ground side who had known him." ~ Excerpt from the June 1944 359th Fighter Group History report dated 4 July 1944.

"Bo" gave his life for all of us, for freedom for the world. Yet that costliest of lessons seems to have faded as people run faster (from home to coffee shop to work to the gym or school and back), talk or text constantly, and rarely pause to reflect on life, to cherish their myriad opportunities. I could easily rant about the evil that seems to promulgate itself in this world of ours, but instead I'll shed a few more tears and continue to quietly work on my manuscript while also sharing photos and stories about the men of the 359th Fighter Group.

I do hope, though, that the story of Lt. Bolefahr's actions that day made a few of you cry. After you've wiped your face dry, but before you pick up your phone, read another blog, or jog to the coffee shop, please take a moment to step outside and gaze at the high, blue sky. Then send a word of thanks to "Bo," and to all heroes.

~ Janet Fogg
    Fogg in the Cockpit

Monday, September 15, 2014

Five Things or You Can Do It

by Nib

I’m on the downhill side of the Colorado Gold conference. If you’ve never been, you don’t know what you’re missing. A weekend full of writing, writing, writing. Not physical sitting down, fingers to keyboard, but learning, talking, immersing in craft and the business. I attended my first conference in 1994 and haven’t missed one since.

Every year I grab hold of some vital information or inspiration to boost me along my writing path. Last year I got all excited about writing new adult contemporary romance and self-pubbing on Amazon. I tried it. After one and three-quarters books, I decided it wasn’t the path for me. I don’t regret the experiment… much. I wrote a lot of words in a short amount of time, so that is always good.

This year, I focused on my biggest weakness in my writing career. Marketing. To show you how bad I am at this, I had forgotten to take business cards to the Colorado Gold conference. With three books out, I didn’t have one stick of promotional material to place on the freebie table.

I have a natural aversion to promoting my books. I don’t know why. Maybe I fear other people won’t like them. It’s hard for me to remember that professionals in the publishing industry liked my writing enough to invest in it. It also seems that marketing is such an overwhelming maze, with no one knowing what works, that I tend to throw up my hands and retreat.

But no more. I refuse to remain a marketing weenie. Led on by Guerilla Marketer, Julie Kazimer, author of the The Deadly After Ever series with the latest book, The Fairyland Murders coming out in December, I am determined to conquer this fear of marketing.

Julie says to break it down. She suggests we do five things for marketing every day. It can be big things, like calling books stores to set up signings or setting up blog tours. It can be small things, like working social marketing sites or commenting on blogs. She says you can even count leaving your business card with your payment at a restaurant. (Of course, you’d have to remember to have cards with you.)

It’s only been a week since I committed to this. On the very first day, after a business meeting, I pulled out a couple of cards promoting my books. I was very excited when the woman I’d met with emailed me later that day and said she’d bought my book. It’s one sale that won’t make a big difference in my income. But it was the validation I needed.

My next book launches in March. It’s not too soon to start setting up a blog tour and book signings. Because of Julie’s urges, I’ve started putting those events in motion. Five things. Every day.

I work out almost every day. I clean my house, pay bills, all manner of grown up things that require discipline, organization and planning. I worked hard to learn to write well enough to get published. Surely, I can figure out this marketing thing.

I’m jumping back on Twitter. I’m at I think they also say @sbakerwriter, but that will be a lesson for another day. I’m really bad at Twitter. But if all these other people can figure it out, I can, too. So, here’s what, I’ve created my first hashtag #5things. Help me out and if you tweet, send me a message.

I remember when I didn’t know what POV meant. Someone had to teach me about passive language. I can be taught. I can learn how to market my books.

Five things every day.

Who’s in?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Change Someone's Story

I appreciated this blog post so much I decided I should share it here.
The theme, “Take someone's face in your hands.”  It's about being the one to make a stranger feel better.   A lovely thought.  I had a similar experience April in an airport when I missed a plane and had to run crying to catch another one to get to my dying father.  A woman in the boarding line ahead of me noticed my crushed state.  She offered to carry my bag and put it in the overhead for me.  She even gave me a hug as we got off the plane.  It reminded me that wonderful things can happen even parallel to devastating things.

- Inkpot

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A few quotes about writing

for your consideration.

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~ Charles Peguy

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~ Sylvia Plath

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~ William Wordsworth

Don't loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it. ~ Jack London

Writing is both mask and unveiling. ~ E.B. White

The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink. ~ T.S. Eliot

The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book. ~ Samuel Johnson

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~ Thomas Mann

Friday, August 15, 2014

Have You Got It?

by Nib

I researched flights for Bouchercon. I checked my email and had an on-line conversation with my daughter. I wandered over to Facebook and blew an hour. After that, I messed around with some hot tub maintenance. Then it seemed like time for coffee so I brewed a pot and read a few articles in The Week.

I dug into the file cabinet looking for an obscure bill from last year to compare with this year. Checked my emails again and answered some questions. Then back to Facebook. And out to check on the garden….

All of this while carrying around a fifty-pound sandbag of guilt, knowing I have a big word count I set for today. I can’t seem to force myself to BICHOK this morning. (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keys) Now it’s nearly noon and I’m still in high-speed avoidance behavior. To break the seal and get the words “flowing,” I’ve finally settled into writing this blog.

I finished the draft of a novel and sent it off to an editor three weeks ago and I’m going crazy waiting to hear what she thinks. I know there will be suggestions, dear lord there are always suggestions. But I don’t know what those will be and how much work it’s going to take to make my little snot-nosed manuscript presentable. Still, I finished a book and have a great beginning on the next one.

And that’s my problem. I’m battling that “Hey, you rock” attitude with the “Don’t quit ‘til you’re done” guilt. I spent a lot of years as a Lutheran and I am from Nebraska, so you can see where the work ethic/guilt part might be pretty ingrained. Seriously, though, what would be so wrong with taking one day off? Sure, I know Stephen King never takes a day off, but I’m no Stephen King.

Then I happened along a TED Talk on something called grit. (Yes, I stumbled upon it while browsing in Facebook, why do you ask?) According to Angela Lee Duckworth, grit is what causes success. It’s not how smart we are or how talented we are, but it’s the ability to dig in and keep working toward the goal.

Angela Lee Duckworth

I even took the quiz linked to the video. (Well, I was murdering time so why not?) If I answered the questions honestly—and I’m not above lying to myself—it turns out I have quite a bit of grit. I might go ahead and agree with that assessment, though. I’m not the most brilliant bulb in the chandelier, nor am I gifted with great heaps of writing talent. But I’ve been toiling away on writing books for a very long time.

I haven’t achieved success in terms of John Grisham or Nora Roberts but I’m continuing to make progress in my writing career. I’m becoming a better writer with each book I turn out and I’m learning more and more all the time. To stick with this crazy business and challenging career, it takes grit, not to mention a loose grasp on sanity.

So now, duly inspired and my fingers well oiled, I am shutting off Facebook, turning away from email and setting up in the blocks in today’s race for word count.

When you hit a writing funk, what fires up your gritty nature and sends you back to the keyboard?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I have yet to publish a novel with my name on the cover.  With nonfiction, I contracted to write a literary cookbook only to have it fall through when the photographer backed out.  But my work has been represented.  I’m the exception to the cliché about it being harder to get an agent than a contract with a publishing house. 

Hooking up through conference pitches and query letters, eight agents have offered to represent my work.  I turned down some of those opportunities.  Roll your eyes.  I know.  This is not to brag, but to establish my credibility on the topic of finding an agent. 

Here are my suggestions for those of you who are ready to have help in selling your book.

When you pitch yourself and your book to an agent, be sure to target the right one.  Many factors will determine which will be your best advocate. 

Be sure they represent your genre.  This doesn’t only mean he likes the genre, although you want your agent to be passionate about your mystery, which may be challenging for one who doesn’t like mysteries.  It means he’s sold them before and will have connections to editors that acquire them.  If you write in more than one genre, as I do, you may be better off getting an agent who is part of an agency that is large enough to represent a variety of genres.

The large Jane Dystel agency represented my cookbook for a year and later a celebrity memoir I was ghostwriting.   If your agent is part of a larger group and is eager to sell your romance novel but doesn’t represent cookbooks, she can pass your cookbook to a partner.

Kathleen Anderson
One of my agents, Kathleen Anderson, didn’t have connections for my cookbook but had had tremendous success with mainstream novels like mine.  Because she didn't have a partner to pass my nonfiction to, my cookbook sat stagnant. 
Lilly Ghahremani

Another agent, Lilly Ghahremani, knew about that cookbook and wanted to sell it for me, but Kathleen wanted to represent all my work and believed it would be complicated if one publishing house had to bargain with two different agents on two different projects.  In retrospect, I should have signed a one book contract with each of them so my genres would get equal attention. 
There are other reasons to consider the size of an agency.  Big agencies are sometimes less attentive, their time spread thin, devoted more to their established authors.  On the other hand, big, well-established agencies have reputations that get their clients taken seriously.  The newcomers in that big agency may be the ones that are easier to pitch to and get a response.  They are still growing their clientele.  

Consider too, what kind of attention you need.  You’ll likely get more attention from a small, boutique, or individual agent.   That doesn’t mean every smaller agency will want to hold your hand through your divorce—though I’ve heard some agents do that.  It means you may have hour-long conversations about that POV fix you need to tackle or how to use Twitter before your book is even bought.  It may, as it did for me once, mean she’ll actually show up to meet you at your home.  Don’t count on that though, the visit usually happens the other way around.

Ten years ago I would have suggested getting a NY agent.  That is no longer necessary.  Kristen Nelson represents Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Hugh Howey (Wool) and other bestsellers.  She’s in Denver. 

Check the acknowledgments in successful books in your genre.  Which agents are mentioned?  If a book is very similar to yours, you may want to avoid querying that agent.  They typically don’t want two of their books to compete.

Do your homework at online sites such as Predators and Editors, Query Tracker, and Absolute Write.  Then make your list.

Don’t send out 100s of queries at once.  Send to a few choice agents, wait as long as they suggest on their websites, check in politely once after that, then move on.  If you get individualized feedback, that is not to be discounted.  It took him time to personalize.  He may be interested in your work after a good edit or perhaps willing to look at your next project.  Pay close attention to what he and others have written to you.  If actionable feedback is consistent among them (couldn’t buy into this character, story didn’t seem big enough, the situation was not believable), take it seriously.  But don’t be surprised if the response is generic and unhelpful (just isn’t my thing, can’t imagine who I’d sell this to, great writing but I’ll pass on this).  They are busy people.  Their job isn’t to educate you.  It’s to serve their current clients and snatch up new ones they can sell.

Whether it is 2 or 20 you are querying, never address your email (or snail mail) to Dear Agent.  Always personalize including a first line about why you chose her to query.  “We spoke at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference….”  “I saw you represented one of my favorite books….”  “Because of your success in representing hard science fiction…”  This shows you’ve done your homework, that you aren’t just blanketing the world of agents with a desperate call for help.

Limit your queries to only one agent in an agency.  Imagine the confusion that could ensue if two people in one agency decide to offer representation.  Plus they often do get together to discuss queries.   Donald Maas says his agents sit around a table once a week and go through queries committee style.  If your query pops up twice, it will, at best, seem as if you weren’t targeting a specific agent.  Wait a couple of months, then you can approach another agent within that agency. 

Finding an agent who will work for you and your book takes a bit of homework and a lot of common sense.  What would you add to my list of things to consider when choosing a literary agent?

- From the Inkpot

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Blame my Brothers

I recently flew to Nashville and thought I would download a couple of ebooks onto my phone to read while on my trip.  I perused many options (you can't have too many books!), added a dozen or so to my wish list, and eventually selected a zombie apocalypse novel and a new mystery based on the world of Peter Wimsey created by Dorothy Sayers.  

Then I sat back and laughed.  At myself.  Zombies and post WWII England!  Could just as easily have been high fantasy and literary fiction.

I really do blame my brothers.  When I was young, in the summer I regularly took the bus to the library, often with my brothers and sister.  Books, books, books!  I was in Heaven!  We could each check out five books, and after I read mine I would then dip into those my brothers and sister brought home.  I didn't care that the books were typically above my reading level or what genre they selected.  Didn't matter one whit.  I consumed those books!  Pirates, pioneers, prisoners, or pomp (and circumstance).  Fairy tales, adventures, science fiction, or romance.  I relished each and every one.

Many years ago, when asked about my favorite books and the genres I preferred, I had great difficulty settling on just one or two.  I read and enjoy them all.  Sure, there's the occasional horror that's just too specific in its gore or torture scenes and I turn away, but that's a specific book, not the entire genre.  And yes, too much technical lingo in a military thriller will sometimes make my eyes glaze over, but if I care about the characters I read on.  And on, and on, and on.

So I want to thank my brothers and sister.  I hold them responsible for not only improving my reading skills but opening my eyes to so many genres.  And for sharing their books.

~ Folio

Monday, July 21, 2014


Hooray Sister Shannon (AKA Nib)!
Shannon won RMFW Writer of the Year! 
A good time (and champagne) was had by all Saturday at the comfy BookBar in Denver. 
A rowdy crowd of RMFW members were there to celebrate
along with fellow nominees 
Christine Jorgensen (who was also nominated for a Colorado Book Award this year)
Terry Wright (a long time contributor to the organization and small publisher) 
Talented writers all! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

by Nib

“You’re an idiot!”

Those terrible words slam over my six foot backyard fence. The irate holler is followed by a tone so filled with disgust it singes my skin. “Get your ass over here. Put that down.”

I am paralyzed. The scene I was working on vanishes from my mind’s eye and my breath catches.

“You stupid moron!”

A young voice, that of Aiden, my eight year-old neighbor, whines back in argument and what follows is five minutes of the grandfather and grandson sniping at each other with the “adult” flinging out more name-calling.
This scene plays out roughly once a week. I’ve only lived here for eight months and I’m sure this has been going on for a long time. The conflict isn’t confined to this one relationship. Three generations living next door wage frequent battle where I may not be able to overhear words but the tone is evident.

It stops me dead every time. I have a visceral reaction. My breath stutters, my heart races, my skin grows clammy. I’ve always hated conflict. Even as a kid, while my brother and sister clashed over any number of childhood problems, I’d be in the corner crying.

Why can’t my neighbors be nice to each other? Speak with kindness, encourage each other, especially Aiden?

I won’t guarantee Aiden isn’t an idiot. He might or might not be—he’s climbed our fence and done malicious mischief in our backyard, he dug a hole under a tree in the front, he threw rocks through our neighbor’s garage windows, and flung a case of empty jars against the fence in the alley shattering glass outside our yard. Obviously, he’s a troubled kid with needs I can only guess at. But I can’t imagine telling him that’s he’s a moron or an idiot will improve his IQ or his behavioral problems. I might even go so far as to say that kind of verbal battering might actually be at the root of the problem.

As disturbing as that situation is, and believe me, I am not making light of it, it brought home a powerful personal message to me.

While I was clenching my fists and teeth during one such episode, and thinking that some kindness and gentleness might bring about more cooperation and greater potential, a realization struck me. How often do I treat myself with that same impatience and contempt?

I know, we’re writers and a certain amount of that self-deprecating attitude with a dollop of insecurity goes with the job description. But I’ve been particularly abusive of myself lately. Whatever the details of my shortcomings, it all amounts to me calling myself a stupid moron and telling me to get my ass to my computer and write decent stuff.

Maybe it’s time I treat myself with the same encouragement and pride I wish for Aiden. Instead of tossing aside the colorful crayon picture and focusing on the failing report card, I ought to pin the picture to the refrigerator and shrug over the F, promising that failure isn’t permanent and I will succeed if I keep trying.
Nothing good comes of negative talk, even if it’s only going on between my ears. So I’m making a pledge to start speaking nicer to myself. I’m going to treat me with the same courtesy and respect I try to give to others. It couldn’t hurt. It might help.

What kind of encouraging things do you do for yourself?

If you’ve got a moment, send a special thought into the universe for Aiden. And even if it’s only for today, be kind to yourself.   

Friday, July 11, 2014

One Man's Junk... Subjectivity

My personal essay, The Importance of a Penis, was a top 10 finalist in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Make Me Laugh Writing Contest.  The final round was judged by legendary TV comedy writer Gene Perret.  Ultimately I was invited to read the piece aloud earlier this year.

Red Line Magazine published the essay in their Power Issue number 5.

It had made it through their screening process and was accepted for publication.  Then the committee of writer/reader peers that put together the magazine reviewed each piece.  My review was mostly negative, which is yet more proof to me that taste is subjective.  The following is my first "bad" review of a published piece.  My skin is already super-duper thick after so many years of being a writer, but it did surprise me to have a magazine pick up work despite what was considered flawed.  It seems there were varying opinions about it.  One more piece of evidence that opinions on the strength of writing can be subjective.

"Given that this is a book club with members accustomed to Chinese Traditions and Writings, the story felt hackneyed to some, heartfelt to others.  Unfortunately the writing was staccato in style, more akin to disjointed pieces of text stuck together than the expected flow of a well-constructed short story.  While the vocabulary and grammar lacked precision (for example, many of our readers were turned off by the author’s use of the word ‘hubby’) some of the analogies and descriptive language seemed unique.  Although the basic premise of the story would be considered solid if indeed it reflected a personal experience, the author should have paid more attention to its pace and flow.  There was general agreement the story lacked maturity in style and flow."

One's man junk is another man's entertaining story.

-- from the Inkpot