Friday, October 31, 2008

Interview with Christine Verstraete on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today I've interviewed Christine Verstraete, along with some of the characters in her book. Hope you enjoy! Also, scroll down to my previous post for more information on how you can win prizes in Christine's scavenger hunt. Happy hunting!

Sam, her bff Lita, and Petey the Dachshund were thrilled (well, as much as a dog can be thrilled anyway) to be asked to stop by Emma's blog as part of the Spooky Blog Tour for Searching For A Starry Night and The Witch Tree by author Christine Verstraete. The two books...Oh, wait, the girls had something to say...

"Awww, c'mon, Sam."

"Lita, what're you moaning about?"

"Sam, not fair! You didn't say anything about that."

Sam raised her eyebrows. "About what?"

Lita moved closer and lowered her voice, "You know. Spooky stuff and a Witch Tree. Ugh. Nothin' I want to be hearin' about. Count me out."

"Lita, wait." Sam tried to keep her friend from walking off. "It's nothing to be scared of. Just a little tour around the 'net to talk about our book and the spooky ebook. You'll be fine. Trust me."

Lita snorted. "Huh. Last time I trusted you I ended up getting scared out of my head. You always seem to find the creepiest stuff. You just can't ever leave it alone."

"Lita, honest, this time..."

Q: Okay, girls, this is the author. Let me interrupt. The blog tour is pretty harmless. Just a way to let everyone know about Searching For A Starry Night and The Witch Tree. How about you answer some questions?

"Well, okay. Only if Sam agrees to forget all that ghost stuff. Creeps me out."


"See? Petey thinks so, too."

Q: All right, now, girls, you both learned a lot about detective work during your adventures. Do you see yourselves doing that as a career someday, or do you have something else in mind?"

Sam scrunched up her face as she thought. "Hmm, that could be fun. You get to sneak around and look in people's houses when they don't know about it."

"Yeah, Sam, and then you get arrested for being a Peepin' Tom. Way too dangerous."

"Guess, Lita's right this time," Sam said. "But Nancy Drew always seemed to do okay. And she got to ride all over in that cool little car."

"Sam, that wasn't real, it was a movie."

"Oh, you forget we're fiction, too, right?"


"It's okay, Petey," Lita said. "If Sam wants to think she's not real, she can do that. Alone."

Q: Now Lita, tell us a little about working with your friend, Sam. I hear the two of you had some problems.

"Well... we weren't doin' too bad, then Sam started talkin' about old Grandpa Sylvester, and ghosts, and Petey was diggin' up all kinds of weird things. Whew. I've got goosebumps just thinkin' about it. I told Sam she needs to be more considerate and stuff."

Q: Sam? Did you and Lita have any problems?

"I told her I was sorry. Really. I never ever want to lose her as a friend. We've been pals since we were little kids. But we figured it out. We're okay. We solved the mystery, too and found the missing miniature painting. I think we're a good team, right?"

"Right!" Lita said and gave Sam a high-five.

Petey leaped up on his hind legs, not wanting to be left out. "Woof!"

"You too, Petey," Sam said. "You, too."

"Yeah, even if you do dig up trouble," Lita said and laughed.

Q: Now back to the author. Let's ask her a "writer" question. What kinds of things DON'T get your creative juices flowing?

Numbers. Financial non-fiction. Yawn. I write for newspapers, but I've always preferred features. I have written on some "heavier" topics in the past, but I'd rather not anymore. But I do enjoy a straight news story once in a while.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?

You get to lie.

("You can do that?" Sam asked.)

Kidding. Seriously, it's fun to be able to make up a whole story and see where it will go. It's even more fun to get an idea, flesh it out and find that it works. Nothing better.

Q: What's your best writing advice?

Have fun with it. Sometimes you can get too serious, then you get bogged down in all the things you "should" do. You can always delete and tighten later. I have to remind myself to keep writing, even if something isn't working. I can go back to it. I outline, but I do let myself deviate from it. Sometimes, you get better ideas to add in if you let the ideas come to you as you're writing.

Q: Okay, the kids are gone. Now we can ask, what is The Witch Tree?

My short ebook, "The Witch Tree," was fun to write and won a contest at Echelon Press. Jimmy Grayson thinks he's found utopia - a new house, a nice porch to relax on... and then THEY came....

Day by day, they arrive by the dozens, the hundreds, their beady eyes, watching, waiting. Jimmy fears for his sanity.

How will it end?

Who will survive?

Will it be him-or them?

Q: Anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

Visit my blog, Candid Canine this week for details on how to follow my Spooky Scavenger Hunt.

Scavenger Hunt Clue 3:
Stop at the witch tree and try to break a spell
But don't stay long if you want to be well!

About the Author

Visit Christine's website and her blog. Yesterday's stop on her blog book tour has Straight from Hel. Tomorrow's stop will be Joyce Anthony's blog.

© Emma Larkins and Christine Verstraete

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Scavenger Hunt Tomorrow! See Rules Here

Christine Verstraete is stopping by tomorrow (okay, technically later today!) for Community Fridays. She's on a spooky blog book tour. Here are the rules for her blog book tour scavenger hunt.

Searching For A Starry Night & Witch Tree Scavenger Hunt!

Enjoy reading some excerpts from Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery and from the spooky ebook, The Witch Tree . Learn more about both books and even scarier, learn a little more about author Christine Verstraete at each blog stop.

Bonus! Halloween Treats!

No trick! Take a chance to win a PDF copy of "The Witch Tree" or some handmade Halloween miniatures for your desk or wherever by following the blog tour.

How to Play

1. Go to each stop on the blog tour. Each stop ends with a Scavenger Hunt Clue. The clue refers to a page on Christine's website at Only a few specific pages are involved.

2. Look for the mini pumpkin on the page corresponding to each question. Find the pages at

3. Email Christine the list of all 6 places you found the pumpkins, and their corresponding numbers - plus your full mailing address (US Only) - to (replace AT with @)

Contest ends Nov. 8, 2008. All 6 answers and numbers must be included. Two winners to be chosen; one will receive a spooky miniatures set by mail and the other will receive a Witch Tree ebook by email.

Have fun! Boo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Storytime: Questions From A Vaporous Mind (And Introducing Friday's Guest!)

It's about time I had some fiction up here! For your reading pleasure, here is a little bit of a ghost story. Let the Halloween spirit be with you!

Questions from a Vaporous Mind

"Do you believe in humans?" May asked. She sat on a moss-covered pile of what might once have been furniture in an ancient stone house. Moonlight passed unobstructed through her form. A locket laying on the ground by her knee vibrated, and May tilted her head.

"Prudence says she believes in humans. She says a human wore her once, long ago."

"Prudence isn't even a ghost. She's just a silly curse. And I don't think that you can really understand what she's saying. I think you're just making it up."

The cursed necklace hopped, jumped, and glowed a bright, angry red. It landed on Eustace and fell right through him without leaving a mark. Prudence the necklace rolled into a corner, as if to sulk.

"Fine then. What do you think?"

"Humans, humans," Eustace said, shaking his head. "I think they're just legends. All the stories make them out to be so strange. They have one fixed size and shape. They're free to move about wherever they wish. They can't move through walls, and apparently if you squish them with a big rock they go away and don't come back."

"I believe in humans!"

This came from Helene, who had just materialized outside the gaping window-hole of the crumbling house. Helene was a residual haunting, and appeared around this time every night at the window before running off into the surrounding forest.

"You'll believe in anything," Eustace said, rolling his ghostly eyes.

"I've seen one once! I think it saw me, too, because it ran away awful quick. They say in the human stories that they're afraid of us."

"Yeah, and they also say that some humans go around 'banishing' us to some 'alternate dimension.' What a load of junk."

The sound of footfalls interrupted Eustace. The ghosts perked up and looked around.

"Eep! I bet that's a human now!"

May dispersed.

"You're such a wimp. I bet it's just a dumb old fox."

Eustace floated past a couple of walls until he came in view of the space where the front door had once stood. There, an odd creature stopped in its tracks and stared straight at him.

"Hello?" the creature asked in a trembling voice.

"Um, boo?" Eustace responded.

The thing let out a blood-curdling shriek, and raced out of the ruined house and away through the forest. Eustace returned to his seat as May reappeared.

"I told you humans were real! That was a human! I knew it!"

"Yeah, yeah," Eustace said in a mournful voice. "I should have squished it with a rock. You know what they say about humans. One of them catches a glimpse of you, next thing you know the whole place is swarming and you can't get rid of them."

Don't forget to stop by this Friday, October 31, for a Community Fridays interview with a truly spooky lady, Chris Verstraete. There's a scavenger hunt! And prizes!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Literature As A Form of Art

The main lesson I learned at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD this weekend is that there's a big difference between 'books' and 'literature.'

Here are the things I liked about the conference. Susan Cheever, the keynote speaker, did a wonderful job. She was witty, engaging, and informative. The winner of the annual award for outstanding achievement in literature, Elmore Leonard, was also a pleasure to see in action, both during a morning panel about crime fiction and during his reading. And I enjoyed the workshop with Stacy Barton, during which she gave me a new way of thinking about character development through making murals.

I think it was a good experience to attend this conference, because it was completely different from the other events I've been to. At the same time, it is not a conference that I would recommend for emerging authors.

To many, literature is an art form. Novels are meant to be broken down, analyzed, their merits judged relative to the existing body of sanctioned works. Some people are allowed into the pantheon of great literature, and others aren't. F. Scott Fitzgerald never made a living as a writer. He is remembered not for his persistence or his marketing skill or his flexibility, but for creating what is widely known as one of the greatest works of American Literature. And that's great for him, and wonderful for all the people who celebrate his work. But it's kind of depressing for emerging authors who are looking to make a living, not looking to make art. Because publishing houses, in general, aren't interested in great literature. They're looking for something that will sell.

Personally, my goal isn't to write the next Great American Novel. Instead, my goal is to give someone a thrill, fill a need, leave them satisfied once the story is over, and sad that there isn't any more. And it's hard to learn how to do that from people who want to get to the essence of the written word. To me, it's not about essence, it's about substance. Characters readers can relate to. An engaging plot. A story that's easy to follow, and easy to understand. A book that children and adults alike will finish and say, "Now that was a rousing tale!"

What are your thoughts? What, to you, is the difference between 'books' and 'literature?' Is it possible to achieve success as an author without impressing the literati?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview with Maryann Miller on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Maryann Miller, author, scriptwriter, reviewer, and editorial consultant.

You recently took your book, One Small Victory, on a 'blog book tour.' How is this different from a 'real-life book tour?' Would you suggest a blog book tour to other authors? What were the pros and cons of going on one?

The virtual tour doesn't involve driving or showing up in your best duds. :-) From that perspective it was very convenient and didn't cost nearly as much as a real book tour. A virtual tour is a good way to meet a lot of people via the Internet, but it does lack the immediacy of actually seeing folks and talking one on one. The chats and messages back and forth online are close, but nothing like that ability to make eye-contact and know that the person is really interested in your book and what you have to say at a presentation. At the last signing I did in a Border's store, I met a young man - maybe about sixteen - who was very focused and asked some really good questions about the writing process and about my book. He then asked if he could have my autograph, so I signed one of my bookmarks and gave it to him. He thanked me, shook my hand, and left. A little while later he came back and said he wanted to buy one of my books for his mother for a gift. That can't happen on a virtual book tour, but I think that is the only downside of a virtual tour. The benefits are many, including the fact that the blogs are live for a long time, and I would really recommend it as a tool for promoting.

You write screenplays in addition to novels. Are these two things very different to write? Many people read novels, but fewer people read screenplays. How do you get into writing them? What is a "logline?" (I picked this up from reading the descriptions of screenplays on your website, never heard of it before!)

Screenplays and novels are very different in terms of structure and format, but they both do demand the ability to tell a good story. In one, you are just going to do it visually as opposed to having someone read your story. Screenplays are not generally marketed for casual reading as people would find the format very difficult to follow. There are brief narrative descriptions of people and place, then dialogue centered in the middle of the page. Not an easy read. :-) I started writing screenplays when I won a contest for one of my short stories and the contest judge said the story was very visual and suggested that I turn the story into a screenplay. I did, and submitted the screenplay the following year in the same contest at the University of Houston. I won first place and discovered that I have a knack for writing scripts. I have written several, and two of them have placed high in major script contests. The best way to explain what a logline is, is to say that it is the short one or two sentence description of the story like you see in the TV guide. It has to tell what the story is about, as well as peak some interest. Those are incredibly hard to write because they have to be so concise. People ask what our stories are about and we can tell them in lots of sentences. But for a logline we have two sentences max to get the concept of the story across.

When people want you to review a novel, do they send you a copy of that novel? Do you write a review if you don't like the novel? Do you ever tell someone that you can't write a review for the book?

For review requests, I like authors to send me a press release with all the information about the book. If I think it is something I might want to read, I will then ask for the book or an advance review copy. Most of the time I do not write negative reviews. If I don't like the book, I will just pass. But for Blogger News Network, where the editorial guidelines are not as strict as ForeWord Magazine, I will occasionally pan a book, especially if it is one that has been getting a lot of buzz for being a really good book, and it actually has some weak writing. I think readers deserve the best that a writer can do. Most of the time I do not tell the writer if I am not going to review the book. Most writers know that we send our work out and take the chance that it won't get reviewed, or it will get a lukewarm review. That's part of the business. I sent copies of One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam to reviewers and never heard from them one way or another.

Among your many duties, you are a member of the co-op editor blog The Blood-Red Pencil. Do you think that editing has improved your writing? Do you ever run across a piece of writing that you refuse to edit?

Editing has absolutely improved my writing. After you tell a client about passive writing, you can sure spot that in your own when you get back to a work in progress. I have declined to edit projects that were obviously written as a catharsis for some trauma and were so poorly written that the writer needed to take a basic creative writing class to start a rewrite. I can do some mentoring and teaching as I edit. I'm doing that right now for a client, but it has to be a project that has some potential of getting published. Unless the writer just wants to write a cohesive autobiography. Then I will take on the project, but the fees will be much higher than for editing work that just needs a little bit of help.

On your website, you offer writers a chance to experience a 'writer's retreat' of your own creation. What a terrific idea! What gave you the idea to provide a retreat for writers? Do you find that it helps to inspire writers when they 'get away from it all?'

The writer's retreat idea came from a good friend, Laura Castoro, who often will rent a cabin in the Ozarks for a few weeks to finish a book. She came to visit me several years ago and said my little ranch reminded her of that cabin -- very pretty setting, quiet, and conducive to writing. She also suggested I offer the editorial services because she considers me a good editor. I do know that this place really feeds my creativity. We need to nurture that in ourselves, and a little time outdoors just marveling at the beauty really gives me a boost. I'm sure it is the same for many other writers.

What is your one super secret tip for aspiring authors hoping to get published?

I don't know that there is one super secret tip for aspiring writers. Writing and getting published all involves a lot of hard work. We have to work as hard on the marketing as we do on the creating, and through it all, we have to be professional.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

I'm not sure if the folks at the Blood-Red Pencil are doing great things, but I think the blog certainly is a great resource for writers and I commend Dani for coming up with the idea. As far as publishers go, university presses are now publishing more fiction and trying to be a publishing outlet for writers who are finding it harder and harder to get into the NY houses. As are independent small presses.

About the Author

To learn more, visit Maryann's website. Maryann has written One Small Victory (Five Star/Gale) and Play It Again, Sam (Uncial Press). She's also part of an upcoming anthology, One Touch, One Glance Anthology (Freya's Bower).

© Emma Larkins and Maryann Miller

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Upcoming Events: Maryann Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, Watermark Gallery

Coming up is another Community Fridays interview. This week's guest is Maryann Miller, author, scriptwriter, reviewer, and editorial consultant. Stop by to learn how a chance suggestion led to a successful scriptwriting career, and find a lovely little place in Texas where a writer can go to get away from it all.

This weekend I will attend the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. The schedule for the conference is packed with events, including workshops and a presentation of the Outstanding Achievement in American Literature to author Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, The Bounty Hunters, Out of Sight, “3:10 to Yuma”).

I'm especially excited to meet the leader of the workshop From the Page to the Stage. It's hard to know where to begin to describe her: I chose the workshop in part because of her varied career experience. Stacy Barton is an author: her published works include a collection of short stories (Surviving Nashville) and a children's book (Babba and I went Hunting Today). She's also a poet, an actor, a film-maker, and a freelance scriptwriter for Disney.

Also up this weekend is another Lit and Art event at the Watermark Art Gallery. The event is titled "Rumi and More - Poetry, Music, Art and Refreshments." It will be held on Sunday, October 26 at 2:00 pm. The Gallery is located in the Bank of America building at 100 S. Charles St., Baltimore, MD. Not sure yet if I'll go to this one, but I did have an excellent time at the last event. If you're in the area, feel free to stop by!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jeffrey Roth's Writing Course

After attending a writing workshop at Capclave this past weekend, I realized one thing: my writing needs more work. And this is good, because I'm signed up to take a writing course at the Carroll County Community College at the end of October.

I've taken several courses to date at the college, and every single one of them has exceeded my expectations. My class on how to get published taught by Karen Syed of Echelon Press Publishing made me decide to put serious effort into my quest for publication. I'd say that Karen's support was the single most important factor in bringing me to where I am today.

The college also offers a series of excellent free business courses, and what is deciding to write for a living if not starting a company of one? I've learned about incorporation, taxes, budgeting, writing business plans, getting funding, and much more.

And now, Jeffrey Roth is teaching a course on rewriting, editing, and critiquing. Jeffrey is a journalist and published short story author, who is currently working on preparing his first novel for publication. I've heard a lot of people say that if you're interested in becoming a fiction author, journalism is a good place to start. When you're a journalist, you have to learn to write for a deadline in order to survive. It pretty much destroys any notions of 'writer's block' that might have been holding you back on that novel of yours. So I'm excited about what this guy has to say!

Taking classes is one of the best things you can do to improve your chances of getting published. Classes give you the chance to meet and mingle with like-minded people, and hopefully learn a few things to improve your craft. At the very least, you'll get a new perspective.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Capclave Recap

Just got back from Capclave. Here are my thoughts on the science fiction and fantasy literary convention.

First of all, I want to thank all of a the wonderful people at The Washington Science Fiction Association, the panelists and speakers, the other attendees, and all the volunteers who made the convention a reality. A convention is a lot of hard work, and the organizers even stuck around at the end to hear people (constructively) complain!

And now, a breakdown.

Panels: Excellent! Great information, well-delivered, and good audience participation. I attended panels on YA Science Fiction, working on your fiction-writing career, working in a writing-related field while trying to launch your fiction-writing career, and magic in a mundane world (among other things). I think they're planning on increasing the amount of time between panels next year, which was the only qualm I had. I liked how they had three to five panelists at each talk so that we got to listen to some great discussions. The panelists all played off of each other well, and the talks were never dull.

Workshops: I attended the writing workshop moderated by Allen Wold. Allen is quite a force to be reckoned with! I received some great insight into my writing.

Socialization: I felt a little more comfortable meeting people at the GLVWG writers' conference I went to last March, mainly because the meals were in the hotel and shared by most of the conference attendees and speakers. But I did get to talk to some wonderful people at Capclave, including editors, gamers, authors, and librarians (librarians are quickly becoming one of my favorite types of people!). I only wish that I had known that the parties written on the board were "open parties" - I probably would have met even more interesting people!

Here are some of the people I did meet, in no particular order:

Allen Wold - Author, panelist, moderator, taskmaster. A man deft and encouraging in his criticisms who left the writers with the feeling they could make something good out of their writing. If you ever get a chance to take a class with him (he teaches at conferences and cons all throughout the year) I strongly suggest you take it. Allen is a multi-published science fiction and non-fiction author.

Edmund R. Schubert - Now, here's an interesting story. I found out that Edmund was editor for Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, which sounded familiar. I realized that I had heard about that magazine through my interview with Jason Sanford, and I asked Edmund if he knew Jason. He said yes, then I said I'd interviewed Jason, and THEN Edmund said he'd read my interview! I checked my blog later, and I realized that, in his interview, Jason actually recommended Edmund highly. Talk about coming full circle! Anyway, Edmund was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the subject at hand and all things science fiction. I'm very lucky to have met him in person. Check out his website to see his new book!

Larry Hodges - Now here's a guy who would make a great character in a story. Larry is working on is first science fiction novel. He also maintains a blog about politics, AND he's a retired table-tennis coach. Which is actually turns out to be a fairly lucrative profession. Did you know that table-tennis players in Europe can make more than a million dollars a year? Larry is the only person I know who can write, coach table-tennis, and recite the histories of every single president complete with terms of office. His frequent participation in workshops and overall enthusiasm about the writing industry make him a great resource.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail - Danielle is a woman who knows a lot about creative promotion! Her launch parties are apparently legendary in this part of the industry, and she gives away great candy. She's a fantasy author and an anthologist. She's also a great person to know, who really, truly gets joy out of her work.

Danny Birt - Danny is trying to single-handedly destroy the fantasy formula of 1.) person meets sage 2.) person quests for magical object 3.) person destroys the Great Evil. He's also a composer of both classical and filk music (a type of science fiction folk music), and an adept manuscript critiquer.

Davey Beauchamp - Davey likes to use his art for a good cause. He's an anthologist who has compiled science fiction stories to provide relief from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Davey is also a YA librarian, and he provided some great insight into the kind of styles that would interest a younger audience.

Conclusion: Terrific convention. Great information. Beautiful location. Very accepting of and willing to help newbies, once they figured out I was one. :) If you're in the MD/DC/VA area, and you're at all interested in reading, writing, or learning more about science fiction and fantasy, put Capclave 2009 on your calendar!

Update: I also wanted to mention Darcy, who was one of the leaders of the writing workshop, and gave me excellent advice about dancing. She didn't have a nametag, but I'm guessing that she's Darcy Wold, Allen Wold's daughter. Thanks Darcy for your help!

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Editor Selection: Emerging Authors Want To Know! at Blood-Red Pencil

My new Emerging Authors Want To Know! post is up over at The Blood-Red Pencil. This one deals with how you choose an editor once you've decided that you need one, and how different editors can fulfill different purposes. Should you talk with an editor before sending over your work? Do editors offer "sample edits" so you can get an idea of what they do? Find out today at The Blood-Red Pencil!

I'm at Caplave today, so I won't be hanging around the blog. But I will be meeting all sorts of new and wonderful people from the science fiction literary community - I'll post a recap on Monday!

If you haven't already, check out the Community Friday interview with Andy Ross. Great info for anyone who's ever wanted to know more about agents.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview with Andy Ross on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today I interview Andy Ross, non-fiction literary agent.

As the owner of Cody's Books ("one of America's great independent book stores") for many years, you probably had quite a few authors stop by for signings, readings, etc. What did those authors do well? What did they do poorly? Any tips for authors attending readings or signings?

We had author readings approximate 20 times per month. That means that we probably had 4,000 readings over the years. In my opinion, the most interesting part of the event was the q&a time. I thought that the actual readings could be deadly boring. After all, people can read the books themselves. I always thought that a presentation by the author followed by q&a worked out the best. If an author was particularly charismatic, then a reading would work.

What made you choose to represent non-fiction books as an agent, specifically books by
"scholars trying to reach a general audience?" Is non-fiction your favorite genre? Do you feel that this market is underrepresented?

Well, I have represented a few novels. But I prefer non-fiction. Novels are very hard to sell. They take a long time. The competition is fierce. And it is a little unclear to me what publishers are looking for. With non-fiction I have a better sense of which publishers are interested in what subjects, whether the material is original, and whether the author has authority or "platform." Although I like working with scholars, many of my books are quite different. I have gotten a contract for a very important scholarly work on theology. But I also worked successfully on a book about dogs. It is early in my career, so I am not yet ready to specialize. Working with scholars presents certain challenges. One must work hard to get them to understand what kind of narrative and writing style will work for a general audience. For a scholar who has written mostly in scholarly journals and with university presses, they must learn an entirely different language.

Are there any other differences between working as a non-fiction agent and working as a fiction agent?

Fiction usually requires months to sell, dozens of submissions. And the criteria for acceptance is murky. It usually has to do with whether an editor "falls in love" with the book. Of course if you are representing a "name brand" novelist, John Updike, Nelson DeMille, etc., it is much easier. It is simply a matter of assessing who will offer the most money and who will do the best job. I have worked with 2 novelists, both previously published, both award winners, both novels that I loved. I was not able to get them published. It is a very tough world out there for fiction.

When you receive a manuscript, do you expect it to be professionally edited? If you like a manuscript, will you accept it with some flaws? Or, as a non-fiction agent, do you usually receive project proposals which you or a ghost writer help the author to write (instead of a finished manuscript)?

For non-fiction, it is not necessary to have a finished manuscript. A proposal and a sample are all that is necessary. If the project is worthy but still needs work (different organization, improved writing style), I recommend a freelance editor. I'm making a list of them. Obviously if it is too flawed to work with, I won't accept it.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to represent?

I prefer writers who are experts in their field, who have superior reputations, or otherwise have impressive platforms. Platform is very important to publishers at the moment. Publishers are simply competing against too many alternatives for leisure time. They demand that the author be the primary conduit for promoting the book. That being said, my first sale was by an unknown author, 25 years old. He wrote a narrative of his year in the Marshall Islands. He was a magnificent writer. And publishers recognized this right away. There was considerable interest in the book from multiple NY houses and editors at the highest level. However in the end, most of them decided to pass. The reason was his lack of "platform." I did manage to get it published by an excellent publisher, though.

There's quite a big debate raging over whether it's better for an author to have an agent or not. There are also some very strongly held opinions. You have a vested interest, as an agent, but you also have a good perspective on the issue. What are your thoughts?

Well, certainly if a person doesn't want to have an agent, then they shouldn't. There are some compelling reasons to have one though. Let me list them.

1.) As a practical matter, most major publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. They simply don't have time. So they insist that submissions be filtered through agents. If you look in the back of a Random House catalogue, you will see that every book being offered has agency representation.

2.) A good agent will help you define how to structure and organize your book to make it saleable.

3.) A good agent will work with you on your proposal to make it attractive to publishers.

4.) A good agent will be familiar with the hundreds of imprints and the thousands of editors who will be looking at your project. Although publishing has become highly consolidated into a handful of publishers, each of these publishers have numerous imprints that have different interests and orientations.

5.) A good agent will help you make a decision about which publisher is the best home. This is sometimes different from which publisher will offer you the most money.

6.) A good agent will protect you from unfair language in a contract.

7.) A good agent will monitor your royalty statements and make sure that you are being treated fairly.

8.) A good agent will work with a publisher and offer suggestions on better ways to promote the book.

9.) A good agent will help you when your book is going out of print. They will work with you to reclaim your rights, and maybe try to resell the book.

10.) A good agent will decide which world rights you should retain to sell yourself and which rights you should offer to a publisher.

11.) A good agent will never take money up front, but will only work for a commission.

I am sure that there are some good agents who do not have the time or inclination to do all of these things. But you need to decide whether you have a good working relationship with your agent, and whether they are doing the kinds of services I am suggesting.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher, agent etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

I can't answer that. There are thousands of authors, hundreds of editors and agents, dozens of publishers who are doing great things. Of course, I would like everyone to remember the virtues of the independent bookseller. They are really the heart and soul of the book business.

About the Author

Visit Andy Ross's website.

© Emma Larkins and Andy Ross

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More About Agents - Andy Ross

Sounds like people are interested in learning about agents! That's good, because tomorrow on Community Friday I'll have an interview with non-fiction agent Andy Ross. If you want to learn even more about agents and the services they provide, don't forget to stop by!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All About Agents

In honor of my very first agent interview on Community Fridays this week, today I'm going to dig a little into the mysterious world of agents.

I haven't yet had the pleasure (or pain, as some people see it) to submit my work to agents. I hope that gathering information this early in the game will help me to make the right decisions when I start looking for an agent, if I decide to go that route.

Jean Henry Mead is a published author of seven nonfiction books and three mystery novels. Her article on why agents turn writers down answers several difficult questions about the process authors go through to get an agent, such as: Should writers discuss marketing in their query letter? Where is the best place to meet an agent? How much should a writer know about their target market before contacting an agent?

If you read L.J. Seller's blog Write First, Clean Later, you'll com across some great agent information. In one article, she lists the pros and cons of finding a literary agent. For example, an agent can help you negotiate a better contract, but he or she might also quit the agency and leave you in the lurch.

Within her article, L.J. mentions another great agent article, What's the point of literary agents? by Mark Liam Piggott of Mark has had both good and bad experiences with agents. Don't forget to read the comments for more great insight.

Tess Gerritsen over at Murderati is actually a happily agented author, more than satisfied working with her third agent. However, she knows other authors whose relationships aren't quite as rosy, and so she offers advice on whether or not to fire an agent based on certain criteria.

As one last point, I'd like to offer a tidbit from Rob, who I met at a recent literary event. Rob asked me if I'd started submitting to agents yet. I replied no, and that I'd heard mixed opinions on whether an agent was the right way to go. Rob then asked me whether all of the most successful authors had agents.

"I imagine so," I said.

"Then, if you want to be successful, shouldn't you have an agent?"

I'd love to hear your thoughts on agents. And don't forget, agent Andy Ross will be here on Friday to offer some great inside information from the industry.


Great comments from L.J. and Alexandra Sokoloff with links to more articles on Alexandra's site. She gives wonderful advice for getting a literary agent, and then lets you know why you want an agent in the first place! Thank you Alexandra for the excellent, to-the-poing advice!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Upcoming Event: Capclave! And Thanks to Brendan

So, next on my schedule of upcoming events is Capclave, the science fiction literary convention for the Washington, D.C. area. I really would like to go to this, because I haven't been to a science fiction/fantasy convetion yet even though fantasy is my preferred genre to read and write. Capclave is sponsored by the WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association). The honored guests are James Morrow, multi-published author and proponent of Tolkien in schools, and Michael Dirda, a noted Pulitzer Prize winning-critic.

Despite my interest in this event, I have to say I'm a little nervous about the whole thing.

The convention is in Rockville, MD, which is about an hour and a half drive from my house. I'm not planning on getting a hotel, so that will be a lot of driving back and forth. And the schedule is packed with presentations, workshops, readings, and a slew of other activities involving well-known personalities from the industry who I do not know and will most likely embarrass myself in front of!

Excitement and fear - the perfect combination for an enlightening experience. I'd love to hear if anyone has any thoughts or experiences to share about Capclave. It would help to make me feel a little less worried!

Also, I wanted to thank Brendan for stopping by the other day and commenting on my blog post about inventing words using morphemes. Brendan is an old college friend who runs a fascinating blog about artificial intelligence and social science. He made an excellent point that I didn't really address in the post: well-known morphemes such as 'hydro' (water) are more likely to make an invented word understandable to most people. How do you find out if a morpheme adds to or detracts from your story? I suggest you test out your invented words on people and see what they say!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Interview with Elvira Woodruff on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

I'm interviewing Elvira Woodruff today. She's the author of such books as The Ravenmaster's Secret and George Washington's Socks.

At the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers' Group annual conference this year, you spoke about the great lengths you go to in order to get accurate information for your books. For example, you traveled to England to interview the Ravenmaster for your book The Ravenmaster's Secret. Could you tell us a little more about your techniques? Any interesting research or travel stories?

I do try to travel to the places I am writing about, but when I first started out I was so broke I could only afford to go to my library for research. I couldn't even afford to buy my research books. I'll never forget when my editor called after my first historical fiction, George Washington's Socks, was handed in and she asked if I could put together a bibliography for the book. "Look around your study for the books you used and I'll call you back in ten minutes for a list," she said. I told her she'd have to give me longer than that because I had returned all of my research books to my library. It actually made for a good opening to a speech I gave to the Pa. Librarians Assoc. after they chose my Ravenmaster's Secret as a winner a few years back. But it was a true story and I think it just goes to show how indebted we writers are to libraries and all of those good people who care about books. I still use my library every week.

As much as I love and use books for researching historical projects, there's nothing like visiting the site of your story. And what I value most is the unexpected discoveries you can make there. For instance when I visited the Tower of London for my Raven book I saw a rat trap built in the 1700's. People were lining up to see the royal jewels in the Tower, but to me, that rat trap was far more interesting. It made me curious about the problem of rats at the Tower and I went on to learn that there was an official rat catcher to the King. This led me to create a character called Rat in my story, who worked for the Tower's rat catcher.

Another time I was visiting the Ellis Island Museum, researching my Orphan of Ellis Island, when I spotted a display of immigrant graffiti. My attention was drawn to what looked like a little goat with wings. That image stayed with me and not only gave me the character of Violetta, the goat in my story, but also brought the story full circle as my character scratches that image on a pillar at Ellis Island as he's waiting in line at the end of the story....I also found a great photograph of an Italian boy and his family in the museum's gift shop. I brought it home and hung it in my study. That picture became my touchstone. Just looking at it gave me hope that I could finish the story. It became so important to the writing that I insisted my editor put it on the back cover of the book. A few years later when the book came out a teacher called from Brooklyn. She had read the story with her fifth graders and told them to go home and research their own family histories. One girl went to her great grandmother's house and was shown a scrapbook. In it was a yellowed newspaper clipping of an Italian boy and his family at Ellis Island. It was the same picture on the back of my book, a picture of her great, great grandfather. What a thrill for all of us! And I would have missed it if I hadn't gone to the museum to research in the first place.

You are a well-known speaker in addition to being a published author. What was your first speaking engagement like?

My first big speaking engagement was terrifying, bordering on surreal. I had always been a shy person and the idea of speaking in public was something I didn't want to have to do. But one of my early books had won a state award down in Florida and somehow my editor convinced me to fly down to Miami, where I was to speak for an hour to 150,000 librarians! Now mind you, I had only gone to college for a year and a half - after which I had a slew of jobs - everything from driving an ice-cream truck to working as a janitor (none of them requiring public speaking skills). My great fear was that here were all of these librarians expecting to hear something deep and meaningful and of course I had nothing like that to say!

My tofu eating, mellow-fellow of a boyfriend at the time, assured me that 'The universe will give you what you need'........ He said don't force the speech. It will come to you........ So I didn't force it........ didn't worry about it....... didn't write it....... And that's how I ended up two months later, on a plane to Miami, with a suitcase full of clothes and no speech! I actually imagined that I'd get inspired with my back to the wall and write it on the plane! But a ridiculously good looking guy was sitting next to me and the tofu eater's face and bad advice was fading in my mind......... Instead of thinking of him or the speech, I was thinking, "Do I have enough lipstick on?".......... Before I knew it the plane's wheels were coming down and we were landing! I thought to myself, Don't panic.

The plan was that I was to be taken out to lunch and then on to the ballroom to give my speech. I'll say I'm not feeling well (not an exaggeration, as my head was killing me with the stress of it all) and I would prefer if they just left me for the hour in the airport so I could rest.....(and write my speech). But there at the gate to meet me was not only a group of librarians but kids in their Sunday best with a sign, Welcome our Favorite Author, Elvira Woodruff! It seems they had won a contest and the prize was they got to have lunch with the author!!!!!!!!!! So of course, I couldn't say anything but, "Oh, how great to meet you all. Where are we going for lunch?" That's when the surreal part really kicked in. All through lunch I kept smiling and thinking, "My God, I'm going to a get up on a stage in a little while, in front of these kids and hundreds of other people, and I have nothing to say!!!!!!!!!!!! They drove me to the hotel and guided me in to this gigantic ball room. It was just as I imagined - a sea of heads, a raised stage, a lone microphone.....I felt like I was on the way to the guillotine. But beside the terror, there was another part of my mind that was looking at the whole thing and wondering, How is this going to end? And then it hit me. Avi had also won for one of his books and was to speak before me. I will just listen very carefully to what Avi says and try to riff off of that..... My breathing, had finally slowed enough for me to get some air. I had a solution! I could do this after all. The seat beside me was empty. I looked around and wondered where Avi was. A few moments later one of the librarians came up to me and said, "We just got word that Avi is sick and won't be speaking after all. Do you think you could make your speech a little longer?"

Now have you ever had one of those dreams where you are at your first day of high school or college and you discover that you are wearing no clothes? It was that kind of moment. And honestly, by this point, I was so stunned I stopped being nervous. It was just too ridiculous. As I heard my name called and walked up to the microphone, I kept thinking. Wow, I wonder what will happen next. I have nothing to say. Not one word! So what I did was I went all the way back to the beginning and told them the story right from the start - including the tofu-eating, bad advice giving boyfriend....... and the funny thing was they laughed and seemed to enjoy it. It was a great lesson. I went home, threw out all of my tofu, along with the boyfriend, and never showed up for an event ill-prepared again. And whenever I did write a speech after that I made sure to mention the failures, the flops, and near misses that we all have to work through when we're in the business of creating art. Because in the end, people are more curious about our failures than our successes. They want to hear the how you navigate those rough patches. Oh, and more thing. Librarians don't always look for the deep and the meaningful. They like to laugh, too.

What was the most major roadblock you encountered along the way to getting published, and how did you overcome it?

My major roadblock in my publishing career was my lack of business sense. I didn't read contracts for years. I also stayed with a small house for too long. They were great to begin with, but they didn't market the books and they had such small distribution, the sales never amounted to much. I also didn't want an agent, but years later I did get one and it didn't turn out to be a great thing. He made my editor cry! And with the competition there is today, you want to keep on good terms with your editor at all costs. My mistake was being impulsive and hiring an agent without checking him out enough. If I had it to do over, I would talk to people who worked with him first. I did fire him, but he still collects a percentage for the life of the book.

Any advice for emerging authors like me just getting started on the path to publication?

My advice to new writers getting into the business is to try for a big house like Scholastic, Inc. or Random House, but if you can't get in, try a smaller publisher, like Holiday House or Boyds Mills. You can also get noticed with magazine writing, which doesn't pay much, but it does get your stories in print, always a good thing to show an editor. I'd also look at getting a good agent. I'd join SCBWI and go to as many of their events as I could. The One On One conference in New Brunswick, NJ is a great place for new writers to hook up with editors and agents.

Do you have any interesting projects or events coming up in the near future?

I'm working on a sequel to my very first historical fiction - George Washington's Socks. The working title is Ben Franklin's Boots. I have a thing for the American Revolution (and footwear).

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

A house I think would be great for a new writer to hook up with is Sleeping Bear out of Michigan. I love the books they are putting out. I know several writers who've worked with them and they rave about their experiences. They are a small house, but have lots of energy and are very creative about marketing.... just a great house all around.

About the Author

Visit Elvira's website here.

© Emma Larkins and Elvira Woodruff

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Get Ready, Get Set... Elvira Woodruff on Community Fridays Tomorrow!

I'm getting set for yet another Community Friday tomorrow on my blog. The guest will be Elvira Woodruff, a well-known children's book author who I first met at the GLVWG Write Stuff conference back in March. Elvira was a speaker at the conference, and she had some great advice to give to emerging authors, as well as some terrific stories about her own experiences. If you get a chance, stop by and say hello!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Morphemes: Inventing Words for Speculative Fiction Authors

Authors of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, etc.) often need to describe people, places, and things outside the normal realm of experience. There are three basic ways to do this:

1.) Use a combination of standard English words. For example, if your characters use bodies of water to travel between different dimensions, you can call them 'waterwalkers' or 'water-walkers.'

Pros: It's easy for your reader to know what you're talking about.

Cons: Limits creativity. Also, these terms don't necessarily call attention to themselves, and can be lost in the rest of your prose.

2.) Make a word up from scratch. In this case, you might call the water-walking characters 'lisorbb.'

Pros: Absolute creative control.

Cons: Many readers abhor the made-up word. Used too frequently, they can turn all but the most dedicated reader away, as I talked about in my post on different types of fantasy novels.

3.) Use the basic building blocks of the English language to invent a word more or less within the accepted boundaries of word formation. In order to do this, you can parse a word into morphemes, a.k.a. basic units of English taken from the ancient languages (usually Latin and Greek) that originated English. Say you wanted to create a new word to mean 'waterwalker.' Water has a Latin morpheme of 'hydr' (as in 'hydropower') and walk has a Greek morpheme of 'ambl' (as in 'amble'). So we could call the waterwalkers 'hydramblers,' if we'd like.

Pros: High level of creative control. Works best if you use easily recognizable morphemes.

Cons: Still might throw some readers off.

And no, I'm not fluent in either Greek or Latin. I use an excellent book that I bought as a textbook for a class on the origin of the English language. The book is English Vocabulary Elements by Keith Denning and William R. Leben. (William Leben actually taught the class I took.) I mostly use the list of Greek and Latin morphemes at the back of the book as a reference guide. And yeah, I know I'm not following the 'rules' for word formation, but that's my creative license at work!

The book is also handy if you're interested in learning why certain words are the way they are. Did you know that the 'hyster' in 'hysterical' actually comes from the Greek morpheme for 'womb?' Because back in the day, 'hysterics' was an actual disease women were diagnosed with. Grrr.

I think that inventing words has the potential to add another dimension to speculative fiction. We do it all the time in real life: how long has 'vloggers' been around? So why not use it in our writing?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Emerging Emma Recommends... First Test by Tamora Pierce

So I'm going to try a new feature for my blog called Emerging Emma Recommends. Every month, I'll recommend a book. I'll tell you a little about the book and who it's suitable for. And I'll keep the book in my sidebar for the duration of the month. I don't have any books of my own to recommend (yet!) but this way, you'll still find good things to read when you stop by. Who knows, I might even recommend your book!

Today's recommendation is First Test by Tamora Pierce.

First Test is the first book in the Protector of the Small quartet. If you've spent time on my blog in the past, you've almost certainly heard me raving about Tamora Pierce. All of her series are excellent, but I just finished re-reading Protector of the Small, and I wanted to rave about it in particular.

Full disclosure: this is a book geared towards young readers. But then again, so was the Harry Potter series. Tamora Pierce is one of those authors who, simply put, can tell a good tale. Even if you're not a huge reader of fantasy, this book will interest you. There are some fantasy elements to the story, but it's really more about adventure than magic.

In First Test, Keladry decides that she wants to be knight. Luckily for her, Alanna (heroine of the Song of the Lioness quartet) came before her and broke the ban on female knights. Unluckily for her, there are more than a few people in power opposed to the idea. However, Keladry has already had years more of training than her fellow pages. She's tough, she's talented, and she's determined to prove to everyone that a woman can make just as good of a knight as a man.

This book has it all - battles, friendships, feuds, struggles against seemingly impossible odds, and even a dash of romance. Recommended for anyone who wants to escape from the daily grind into a world where anything is possible for a person with spirit and will.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Recognition for the Blood-Red Pencil Blog

I mentioned a while back that I'm now the "emerging author" voice on the Blood-Red Pencil, a co-op blog by an excellent group of editors with daily posts useful for emerging and established authors. Well, seems like we're doing something right - on Saturday, our blog was chosen as a 'blog of note' by freelance writers Laura Spencer over at Writing Thoughts. Thanks Laura!

And speaking about the Blood-Red Pencil, my new Emerging Authors Want To Know! feature is up today. This one is about my fear of evil editors, and what they'll do to my poor manuscript. There are some great replies, especially what happens to a manuscript once it enters the slush pile. Stop by, and don't forget to read the comments - there's even more good stuff going on there!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Interview with Helen Ginger on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing communities. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's interview is with Helen Ginger, freelance editor, book consultant, writer, teacher, editor, speaker, and former mermaid.

Wow, you've got a lot of titles! Are you doing all of those things currently, or are you focusing more on one area than the others?

I do seem to wear a lot of hats, don't I? Actually, though, if you look close, you'll see all of the titles -- Writer, Editor, Book Consultant, Speaker -- relate to writing. I do my own writing, mainly fiction but I'm venturing into nonfiction. And, of course, I've been publishing my newsletter Doing It Write for nine years now, every Thursday, with subscribers across the world. I edit for other writers. I do marketing primarily for a company I'm an Owner/Partner in – Legends In Our Own Minds® -- but even the marketing bleeds over into writing, since more and more I'm working with writers on things other than just editing. And I love to speak about writing. I have a Masters in Speech Communication and years ago I taught public speaking. So, all the hats are stacked on top of each other. The one I'm most focused on now is editing. I love working with authors on their books. Writers are, after all, some of the most creative people on the planet, right? Not only do I make use of my degree in English, I get to read all these fabulous books before anyone else! For writers who may be thinking they won't ever hire an editor to look at their manuscript because they couldn't stand all the red marks, I would suggest they ask themselves which would be worse – working with an editor to correct punctuation, find dropped words, correct continuity problems, cut superfluous adverbs and weak verbs, and other problems OR getting back query after query with form rejection letters? I don't edit to make a writer cry. I work with the author to get her or his book ready to go to an agent or editor.

What aspect of your collection of careers did you start with? What made you decide to get into it? What were you doing before?

Hmm, let me see here. Writing came first – some of my earliest memories are of writing. Then came editing since I worked with one of my degree professors by editing and grading papers, then came public speaking since my Master's specialization was in Oral Interpretation (orally interpreting the written word) and after graduation I taught public speaking at San Antonio College and Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, Texas. Then after years of therapy, otherwise known as critique groups, I moved into editing for authors and companies. Marketing sort of grew out of working with businesses and my experience as Executive Director of the Writers' League of Texas. Why did I decide to get into it? All of it stems from my love of writing and books. I've never really visualized myself in anything else.

Out of all of your titles, 'Book Consultant' isn't one I've heard before. Can you tell us what that is?

Book Consultant encompasses more than just editing. I work with authors, when asked, on areas like query letters, synopses, promotion, networking … aspects of a writer's career beyond just writing the book. Recently, I did a phone consult with an author whose book was out with a very small press. He had hired a publicist, but didn't feel like the publicist was doing him much good and he couldn't afford to travel on a bookstore tour. So I talked to him about getting out into the virtual world. Yeah, he was late because the book was already out. But it wasn't like he could turn back the calendar. He needed to do what he could now. Every writer, from the time they get the idea for a story should start prepping to promote the book. If you wait until it's about to come out, you're almost too late. As you write, start getting ready to market your book and start networking.

One of the things that you teach is public speaking. I think many authors tend to be introverts. I still remember sweating through my speech for Civic Oration in the fifth grade! Do you think public speaking is something authors should be comfortable with? Any quick tips on how to do this?

I definitely believe authors need to be ready to speak in public. The days of the recluse author refusing to promote are long gone. While it's true that a lot of marketing today is done via the Internet, an author can't overlook face-to-face opportunities. At a book signing, you're going to have to talk to people, but if you can change that book signing into an opportunity to speak to an audience, your chances of selling books goes up. My advice is start small. If there's a Toastmasters group near by, you can join that. If you go to a conference or a meeting, make yourself raise your hand, stand and ask a question. If there's a social time before the meeting, go around and introduce yourself and talk, not just listen. When it comes time to speak, know your subject. If you want, you can write out your speech then make note cards with your main topics or subjects listed. Then practice, practice, practice. Don't try to memorize it word for word. You can take your note cards when you go to the podium or front of the room, but don't take the written speech. You do not want to read – it's a talk, not a reading. (And if it does involve a reading from your book, practice that beforehand so your words sound like they did in your head when you wrote them, not like a boring grocery list.)

Do you have any fun projects going on right now?

About a year ago, I did interviews with Biomedical Engineering Technicians in Texas and Massachusetts which eventually became part of a book – I recently received the ARC from the publisher. I'll be meeting with the publisher in early October to discuss more books on tech careers. I enjoyed doing the interviews and I went from having no idea what a BMET did to feeling like I have a working knowledge of the field. My understanding is that the publisher wants to have single authors working on future books in the series as opposed to several writers contributing to each one. So, I'm looking forward to seeing what other fields I can learn! I'm also currently working with an author on editing her paranormal mystery. I've already done the first few chapters and she has wonderful characters. I'm looking forward to getting the full manuscript.

You say that you used to be a mermaid. Could you expand on that? Or is it a secret? :)

No secret. Somewhere I even have postcards with me standing on a volcano, as proof of my three years as a mermaid. I swam at a resort/park called Aquarena Springs, which is no longer in business since Texas State University bought it and turned it into a research center. Most mermaids swam only in the summer, the busiest time of the year, but I swam year round. The park was open every day except Christmas, whether the temperature was a hundred-and-two or thirty-two. The water temperature stayed the same: 72 (that's the official line, although one time we tested it and the thermometer said 68). It was spring fed since the park was at the mouth of a river and had hundreds of springs. I did underwater synchronized swimming, blew air rings and, if you want to know how to eat and drink underwater, I can tell you.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

That's hard – not finding one, but narrowing it down to one. Okay. An agent who I think does a good blog for writers is Nathan Bransford. He gives solid advice, posts frequently, and is nowhere near as snarky as Miss Snark (no longer actively posting) or Evil Editor. Not that I don't like Miss Snark or Evil Editor, but they're both intimidating for beginning writers since if you asked a question, you were quite likely to get snarkicized.

I'm also going to name two authors who I think are doing great things. One is Susan Wittig Albert, a multi-series mystery author. She's a great author, but one reason I recommend her is because she is one of the best at virtual book tours. If you want to know how to conduct a successful blog book tour, follow one of hers and learn. Plus, she usually does a follow up at the end of a tour to share how she did it and what worked and what didn't. The second author is Diane Fanning, a multi-published true crime author with two new mystery series. She's a really good writer. But what amazes me is the work she puts in day in and day out. She'll have at least one, sometimes two, true crimes coming out every year, plus true crimes that she's doing updates on so they can be re-released, plus a mystery. When she researches a true crime, she attends trials and travels all over the US interviewing people. She does speaking engagements and book signings – if Diane Fanning is ever in your area speaking about the serial killers she's interviewed, go hear her. I attended her talk, with slides, at the University of Texas. It'll send chills down your spine. Just listening to her schedule tires me out, yet she is the nicest person you'll ever meet.

Okay, that's it. I'm done. (Even I'm tired of hearing me talk.) Thank you so much, Emma, for inviting me here to your blog. I'll stick around today in case anyone has questions or comments. This was fun!

About the Author
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.

© Emma Larkins and Helen Ginger

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stop By Tomorrow To Talk With...

... Helen Ginger! Helen is a freelance editor, book consultant, writer, teacher, speaker, and former mermaid. And I'm sure a bunch of other things besides. Come hang out with us and chat about weak verbs, public speaking, and eating and drinking underwater.

Helen will be around, so make sure you say hi! You wouldn't want her to feel lonely, would you?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Requiem For A Friend Named Dave

I had some sad news last week. A person who was an important part of my college experience passed away. No, he wasn't a professor, an advisor, or a fellow student. He was Super Dave.

According to this article, his real name was Dave Hahn, . You might wonder why he had a whole article written about him in the newspaper. Was he a celebrity? No. Did unusual events surround his life or death? Not really. He was, however, an integral member of the Stanford community.

I first met Super Dave while playing in the drum section of the LSJUMB - aka Leland Stanford Junior (pause) University Marching Band. The band in general, and the drums in particular, were favorites of Super Dave, who was himself an accomplished drummer. He also worked at the dining hall of a dorm I lived in for a couple of years. I remember how he'd smile and hug me whenever he saw me. He'd say things like, "Man, you are lookin' mighty fine today!" or "Hello, beautiful." Coming from anyone else, it would have been odd, but Super Dave said it with such innocent sincerity that it always made my day. He had a selflessness and passion for life that made him unlike anyone else I've ever met.

Super Dave never wrote a novel or starred in a movie (although he was an aspiring musician). He wasn't famous outside of Palo Alto. He probably will never have any buildings named after him. But he was a good person, someone who brought happiness to the lives of everyone who knew him. And because of that, he deserves to be remembered.

We'll miss you, Super Dave.