Happy Pub Day!

Monday, August 29, 2016

This Wednesday is the pub day for Dean A. Haycock's new book, CHARACTERS ON THE COUCH: EXPLORING PSYCHOLOGY THROUGH LITERATURE AND FILM!  I'm so excited to introduce you all to the book with Dean's interview below...enjoy and be sure to pick up a copy of the book on the 31st!



For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.

I'm a science and medical writer who believes the subjects he writes about are much more interesting than he is. My goal is to make interesting scientific material easier to understand without oversimplifying or misrepresenting it. When I graduated from college, I wrote for two weeks straight. When I evaluated what I'd written, I found only one good paragraph. I put aside the idea of making a living writing and took other jobs, like many writers have. In my case, I was an animal care technician, a laboratory technician, a graduate student/teaching assistant, a post-doctoral fellow and a research scientist. But I kept writing. When a pharmaceutical company I worked for wanted me to move out of state to a city and away from my country home, I choose to quit and finally try writing full time once again.

What lead to the concept of this book?

In my previous book, Murderous Minds, I explored the criminal psychopathic mind and brain. I explained how scientists are investigating people who lack empathy, emotional depth and a conscience. I explained how and what we know about the biological origins of this fascinating type of person. All of the subjects discussed in that book are real, both the scientists and the psychopathic prisoners they studied. During my research, I became interested in how psychopathy was portrayed, both accurately and inaccurately, in novels and in movies. That was the start of my next book, Characters on the Couch, Exploring Psychology Through Literature and Film. I expanded the subject material to include many different types of mental disorders as well as characters with positive psychological traits and strengths.

What was it like writing and researching this book?  Did you come upon anything unexpected that surprised you?

I was surprised to learn how often medical schools, as well as psychiatric and psychological training programs, use fictional characters to help train future psychiatrists and psychologists, to teach them about the features of mental disorders. For example, scholarly journal articles discuss the features of mental disorders in Star Wars characters and several have explored the evolution of psychopathic characters in the history of film. It was a confirmation that the topics in Characters on the Cough were worth writing about.
My second surprise was due to my naivete. I underestimated how much work it would be to discuss 101 different literary and film characters and their psychological traits or illnesses. It was much harder than I thought it would be. I'm sure my blood pressure went up as my final deadline approached but I am very happy with the final result.
This was offset by how much fun it was to read so many novels, novellas, short stories and poems, and to watch so many movies, while researching the book.
How was working on this book different from your previous book, MURDEROUS MINDS?
Although I seriously considered majoring in American literature in college, I ended up studying biology and then neuroscience. For most of my writing career, I have read nonfiction books. Taking the time to get back to reading lots of fiction for this book was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the last year and a half.

What do you hope readers take away from CHARACTERS ON THE COUCH?

Besides hoping the book increases readers' enjoyment and understanding of the fictional characters they encounter, I hope it encourages them to think more about the psychology behind the behavior of both fictional and real people. Anything we can do to increase understanding of mental health will hopefully help reduce prejudice against mental illness.

Anything that other nonfiction writers can learn from your experiences?

It’s obvious but always worth saying: as much as you possibly can, write about topics that fascinate you. And carefully evaluate the time and effort a new project will require.
What's a fun fact about yourself?

I was once stopped on a back road in Bulgaria by two communist soldiers carrying machine guns while somewhere nearby, a public address system blared at maximum volume Tom Jones singing "Daughter of Darkness." As I listened to the music and looked at the machine guns, I was simultaneously struck by the knowledge of what the automatic weapons could do to me and the surreal soundtrack playing during the interrogation.

Query Critique

Monday, August 22, 2016

In the all the excitement of deals, new clients, and cats, I completely forgot about this month's query critique!  Sorry!!!  Here it is now, and because I'm posting a week late, results will be posted in two weeks instead of three!  For everyone who enters (and those who don't) spread the word so that even if you don't submit a query, you encourage others to read and comment.  Thanks :)




If you're not familiar with how to enter, take a look at my previous post to read the rules.  Good luck!  And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!

Cats & Deals

Monday, August 15, 2016

I should start off this blog by first saying that I am over the moon about a new deal that I hinted at last week.  Alana Delacroix's Shifting Love paranormal romance trilogy is going to be published at Kensingston Lyrical and I'm sooooo psyched!!!!  It's an amazing book that reads like a thriller, with an investigative journalist who has retired from the reporting life after a vicious attack and now works at a PR firm, where a new client inadvertently brings her back into contact with the criminal who attacked her...she just happens to be a half shifter and her client is the sexy shifter king of North America.  Go, Alana!!

I also signed the wonderful Rie Neal, whose MG book, THE FIRST MARTIAN, is about the first boy born on the Mars Research Dome and what happens when a reality TV show crew and a shuttle filled with new inhabitants for the dome--including a girl his age--arrive on the planet.

And in other news...cats!!!  I am the proud momma of two adorable little kittens, Ivan and Nori, who are Egyptian Mau mixes.  They are so cute!  Ivan is very exuberant and a little nuts and Nori is a bit of a scaredy cat who loves finding small cuddly spaces.  The rest of this post is just going to be cat pictures so you can all start your week off with lovable fluffiness   Also, we made them an awesome cat tent that we found from a DIY post online if anyone wants to make their tiny pet a new home!




Exciting News

Monday, August 8, 2016

So here is all my exciting news (in list form!)

1. Deal! Lauren Smith's dragon shifter trilogy is finding its home with Lizzie Poteet at SMP Swerve and I couldn't be happier! 🐉

2. Almost Deal!  I have another three-book deal in the works that I'm hoping to finalize this week.  I'm on fire with paranormal romance lately 😀

3. New author!  Remember that sad list I have of authors I really, really loved but didn't get?  Well, I get to scratch one of them off the list, because I signed the amazing LZ Marie, whose historical fiction about Nero's poisoner I read a couple years ago.  Soooo thrilled she is now mine!!!

4. I got to see Late Night!  I won tickets to see Late Night With Seth Meyers last Wednesday and it was awesome :)  Allllmost makes up for the fact that I have yet to win tickets to Shakespeare in the Park or Hamilton.  

Angry Post

Monday, August 1, 2016

The last time I did an angry post was a couple years ago, and I felt really weird about it.  I'm not an angry person by nature and I also always second-guess anything I think about writing or saying that is negative on my public/professional platforms.  But after reading this article that I came upon in the Twittersphere, I knew that this was going to be my blog topic this week.  It is by an intern who shares a very mean post by a misogynistic man, who insults two agents he thinks did not give him his due at a conference. 

Besides just making me mad, it sort of reaffirmed the reason that I started this blog: a lot of people (and not just frustrated writers) have no idea what it means to be a literary agent.  We have second jobs; we go through submissions processes with editors that are similar to how writers query; our work as agents involve more than just reading all day; we have good days and bad days; we are people, not gatekeepers.



Quickly looking through David Benjamin's post, and omitting corrections for the baselessly rude things he says (because my refutes for those would just be, "What the hell is wrong with you, dude?"), here are some things he and a commenter called Anonymous Friend, whose comments are in the screenshot above, gets wrong about literary agents: 


What David Benjamin Says
The Truth
Agents are forced by their agencies to go to conferences.
We are invited to conferences and choose which ones to attend.  There is no conference quota, which you can see by noticing that not all agents attend x number of conferences every year.  Sometimes I go to ten a year; sometimes I go to five.
They hate to read and they hate writing conferences.
The truth here should be obvious.  If we weren’t insanely passionate about reading and working with writers, we would all be jumping off buildings, because 80% OF WHAT WE DO is read and talk to authors.
Agents reject authors on “pretexts.”
I do admit, having an author sit down in front of you or write a query that tells you that they’ve written 97 books and want you to work on them all is daunting.  Because, you know, that is a lot of words.  But the idea that we don’t reject for real reasons, even if that reason is just that our list is so full that we can’t take on your superbly written work, is stupid.  I’m not going to turn down the most amazing thing I’ve ever read if because I’d rather go home and watch TV.  I want a successful career as much as you do.
Agents are MFA rejects who get into agenting to make money.
Agents have to have some experience in the industry before they become agents, whether that is interning or working in another area of the business, so ABSOLUTELY NONE OF US are under the illusion that working in publishing is going to make us rich.  It will maybe help us rent a cute condo in Hoboken, but that’s about it.
Agents think they are gatekeepers, but they let things like 50 SHADES OF GRAY through.
On this one, I can’t speak for all agents, but I hate the use of the term “gatekeeper.”  For one thing, I’m not deciding who gets to sit next to Shakespeare.  And also, we are looking for trendsetters as well as passion projects.
We take things out on writers because we are fragile, raw, and bitter and also lack business ethics.
NO!!  I do sometimes get into bad moods, like a human, but when that happens, I take it out on ice cream or on my dirty apartment.  I don’t make myself feel better by going through my submissions folder and cackling.  The business ethic thing is bullshit.  If we were unethical, we’d bring back reading fees and take 50% commission.

Okay, that's my diatribe for the year.  Next week will be exciting news!

Query Critique (+ First Page) Winner

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tabitha Bird is the winner of the Independence Day query critique + first page!  Here is her original query and first page:


Dear Agent,
 

I am seeking representation for THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING, upmarket women’s fiction dusted with magical realism and complete at 88,000 words. Readers of Joanne Harris and Alice Hoffman may enjoy the irrepressible magic in this novel, which explores a woman’s struggle to become herself in light of her past and ultimately what it means to bear witness to and validate herself.
 

The ocean arrives in a box, asking to be planted. From it grows a magical garden that brings brings Willa Waters face to face with her younger and older selves to learn that, in running from her childhood trauma, she has left herself behind.
 

33-year-old Middle Willa, mother and wife, has left behind her country home and the memories of her father’s abuse. But when her current house transforms into her childhood home and the magical garden re-grows, she is confronted with her past in the form of 8-year-old Little Girl and with the consequences of her choices in the form of 103-year-old Silver Willa. 
 

With the help of Little Girl and Silver Willa, Middle Willa begins to see herself as a loveable child who was not at fault and as a woman who has the power to confront her father. But the healing process is halted when her father reveals a painful, long-forgotten secret. And when Willa’s grandmother dies, all hope, magic, and possibility seem to die with her. Then Silver Willa finds Middle Willa’s grave, and she knows that time is running out. If Middle Willa can’t face the secrets of her abusive past and embrace Little Girl, there will be no future.
 

THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING is set in Boonah, Australia, where I reside, and draws from my own experiences of healing from trauma by nurturing and embracing the little girl I once was. As a winner of the March 2016 Pitch to Publication Twitter contest, this novel has benefited from working with professional editor Sione Aeschliman. My writing has appeared in Mused Literary Review and MOPS Australia, among other markets.
 

My sincere thanks for your consideration,Tabitha Bird

 
Chapter One
 
Willa Waters
 
Before
 
8           
 
The ocean arrives in a box
 
Moon sees it in my backyard, so do I. The cardboard is soggy where it sits in the dirt, dead leaves clinging to the sides. A white card the size of postcard is stuck on top. Waves that look a bit like storm clouds where they froth are drawn in swirls on one side; the blues and greens like bruises. On the other side in loopy handwriting it reads,
 
One Ocean: Plant in the backyard.
 
 Dig too deep and the roots suffocate.
 
Too shallow and the roots won't anchor.
 
Standing over the box, I tuck the card in my dressing gown. Mango Girl, my mango tree, stands behind me. Watching too. My breath curls in the cold making shape friends. Only me and Cold-air Friend huddled together in my backyard. And now this box with an ocean that wants to be planted.
 
There's no address, no stamps, no name on the box at all. The string falls off without much help. A bit of help. Okay, I pulled.
 
What kind of ocean arrives in a box?
 
You should be able to collect oceans. That's what I told Nannie. Then you could pour one into a jar and take it home. All the sand between your toes and the way Mummy is laughing and pushing your sister on the swing, you could catch that moment and keep it. But oceans being delivered? Thats some kind of magic job.
 
I open the lid. One cardboard flap at a time. It doesn't seem like a thing you should rush, although there's this rushing feeling in the air. Inside me.
 
My fingers begin to tingle. Like I let loose a jar of fireflies and want to catch them all. The air wraps around me, suddenly warm. It's Nannie's kitchen and we're sitting on stools giggling over a bowl of Cream Chicken soup. It's a Midnight Tea Party and Jam Drop biscuits on Nannie's back deck. It's possums twitching their noses while they inspect the bread and honey we have left for them.
 
The air now smells of Jam Drops baking in the oven. But that's silly. It's only me, a dandelion cartwheeling across the dirt, and the moon, its big frown in the sky. Tired moon. Tired night.
 
And oceans are salty, right?
 
Peering into the box, I see it. Something.
 
"There you are," I whisper.
 
Lifting it out, I hold it up to the moon. The moon and I look.
 
A glass jar. Greyish liquid at the bottom. Dirty water? It's nothing much at all. It sits in my hand staring at us. I think it might be staring.

I wait.

An ocean that asks to be planted should do stuff. Flap, hum, rattle, sparkle, glow or something. It should at least be full of water and it isn't even that. 

And here is my critique:

Dear Agent,


I am seeking representation for THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING, upmarket women’s fiction dusted with magical realism and complete at 88,000 words. Readers of Joanne Harris and Alice Hoffman may will enjoy the irrepressible magic in this novel, which explores a woman’s struggle to become herself in light of her past and ultimately what it means to bear witness to and validate herself to come to terms with her past and accept herself. [I changed the wording here because the former was too run-on and confusing to read.]

 
The ocean arrives in a box, A box with the label "ocean" arrives at Willa Waters's door, asking to be planted. [When I read your first page later on, I understood what you were talking about, but starting out by saying the ocean arrives in a box is VERY confusing, especially without context!] From it grows a magical garden that brings brings Willa Waters face-to-face with her younger and older selves [Literally or figuratively?  Explain a little more here.] to learn that, in who show her that by running from her childhood trauma, she has left important parts of herself behind.

 
33Thirty-three-year-old Middle Willa, mother and wife, has left behind her country home and the memories of her father’s abuse. But when her current house transforms into her childhood home and the magical ocean garden re-grows, she is confronted with her past in the form of 8eight-year-old Little Girl and with the consequences of her choices in the form of 103one-hundred-and-three-year-old Silver Willa. [I would try to combine this paragraph with the previous one, since they both contain some repetitive information.]
 
 
With the help of Little Girl and Silver Willa, Middle Willa begins to see herself as a loveablelovable child who was not at fault and as a woman who has the power to confront her father. But the healing process is halted when her father reveals a painful, long-forgotten secret. And when Willa’s grandmother dies, all hope, magic, and possibility seem to die with her. Then Silver Willa finds Middle Willa’s grave, and she knows that time is running out. If Middle Willa can’t face the secrets of her abusive past and embrace Little Girl, there will be no future. [This entire paragraph needs to be rewritten.  The stakes don't feel high enough, and the writing is hard to follow--I don't know what happened to Willa as a child, what her grandmother has to do with anything, or how all three Willas are working together.  Clarify, but also let us know WHY we are investing ourselves in this story--what is at risk?]
 
 
THE EXQUISITENESS OF SEEING is set in Boonah, Australia, where I reside, and draws from my own experiences of healing from trauma by nurturing and embracing the little girl I once was. As a winner of the March 2016 Pitch to Publication Twitter contest, this novel has benefited from working with professional editor Sione Aeschliman. My writing has appeared in Mused Literary Review and MOPS Australia, among other markets.

 
My sincere thanks for your consideration,

 
Tabitha Bird

 
Chapter One
 
Willa Waters
 
Before
 
8

 
The ocean arrives in a box.
 
Moon sees it in my backyard, so do I. The cardboard is soggy where it sits in the dirt, dead leaves clinging to the sides. A white card the size of postcard is stuck on top. Waves that look a bit like storm clouds where they froth are drawn in swirls on one side; the blues and greens like bruises. On the other side in loopy handwriting it reads,
 
One Ocean: Plant in the backyard.
 
Dig too deep and the roots suffocate.
 
Too shallow and the roots won't anchor.
 
Standing over the box, I tuck the card in my dressing gown. Mango Girl, my mango tree, stands behind me. Watching too. My breath curls in the cold making shape friends. Only me and Cold-air Friend huddled together in my backyard. [This is confusing--cut]  And now this box with an ocean that wants to be planted.
 
There's no address, no stamps, no name on the box at all. The string falls off without much help. A bit of help. Okay, I pulled.
 
What kind of ocean arrives in a box?
 
You should be able to collect oceans. That's what I told Nannie once when I was a little girl. Then you could pour one into a jar and take it home, I'd said. All the sand between your toes and the way Mummy is laughing and pushing your sister on the swing, you could catch that moment and keep it. But oceans being delivered? Thats some kind of magic job. [Wouldn't collecting oceans be a magic job, too, though?]
 
I open the lid. One one cardboard flap at a time. It doesn't seem like a thing you should rush, although there's this rushing a rising feeling of anticipation in the air. Inside me.
 
My fingers begin to tingle. Like I let loose a jar of fireflies and want to catch them all. The air wraps around me, suddenly warm. It's a warmth like my Nannie's kitchen and we're sitting when we sat on stools giggling over a bowl of Cream Chicken soup. It's a Or when we had a Midnight Tea Party and with Jjam Drop biscuits on Nannie's back deck in the summer. It's possums twitching their noses while they inspect the bread and honey we have left for them.
 
The air now smells of Jam Drops baking in the oven. But that's silly. It's only me, a dandelion cartwheeling across the dirt [I'm not sure how we are supposed to connect her with a dandelion here when she is opening a package?], and the moon, its big frown in the sky. Tired moon. Tired night.
 
And oceans are salty, right? [You use the word "and" here, but I'm not sure how oceans being salty connect to a tired moon and tired night. Explain.]
 
Peering into the box, I see it. Something.
 
"There you are," I whisper.
 
Lifting it out, I hold it up to the moon. The moon and I look.
 
A glass jar. Greyish liquid at the bottom. Dirty water? It's nothing much at all. It sits in my hand staring at us. I think it might be staring.
 
I wait.
 
An ocean that asks to be planted should do stuff. Flap, hum, rattle, sparkle, glow or something. It should at least be full of water and it isn't even that. 


The query is off to a great start!  I very much liked the description of the story being upmarket dusted with magical realism.  However, even though the author did a great job capturing the tone we see in the writing itself, she did not really get the point of the story across strongly enough.  An important thing to keep in mind when querying agents is that you want to show them what about your book is compelling and different from others in the the marketplace.  What will keep readers turning the page?  As it currently stands, I'm not sure the idea of finding self-validation is a high enough stake for readers.

As for the first page, I was very intrigued as I read!  The idea of the ocean arriving in a box had me interested in reading more and finding out what happens.  However, one issue I see often with books containing magical realism is a tendency to have events or descriptions be whimsical or strange for no reason--or at least for a reason that is very difficult to understand.  For instance, I'm not sure why Willa is described as a dandelion cartwheeling across the dirt when I am assume she is crouched down, slowly opening her package flap by flap. It doesn't really make sense to me. 

Just like when world building for full-on fantasy, magical realism needs to be crafted carefully and systematically in a way that will make sense and immerse readers.  It's definitely not the easiest thing in the world to do, but getting it perfect is essential to having a strong story.

Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section below!
 
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