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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On-line critique of my query letter.

For those of you who are still working on you query letter and looking for more feedback, here's a idea you might want to try. I thought the following might be helpful.

I started writing my query letter a year or so ago, around the same time I was nearly finished with my memoir and also working on a proposal. Since I'd never written a query before, I spent a lot of time reading books and searching on-line to learn as much as I could about writing good queries.

After I had a handle on it, I began posting my letter in places where writers could read it and give me feedback. One of the best places, a place where I got a lot of feedback that helped me end up with my final copy, was SheWrites.com.

I spent a lot of time re-writing the letter, incorporating the best suggestions from other writers, and finally got it to a point where I was just about satisfied. I say "just about" because I don't think any writer is 100% satisfied with her writing. She always feels  like it could be better...and this may be true.

A couple of months ago, after the letter had been sitting on my desk for a while I decided to submit it to Marla Miller, a writer and editor who has her own on-line query critique page at Writer's Magazine. Below I've posted my query letter and then the video of Ms. Miller critiquing it.

Query Letter
Dear Agent, 

Demanding divas, naked Irishmen walking in their sleep, and amorous honeymooners leaving remnants of unforgettable wedding nights are all part of the parade of flamboyant guests who came in and out of my life as an innkeeper.

Despite being a reclusive, retired schoolteacher with no business experience and little start-up money, I took a risk, purchased a turn-of-the-century mansion, and turned it into into a charming bed-and-breakfast. Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper’s Tale is the humorous and sometimes poignant story of my 17-year journey through a minefield of contractors, housekeepers and eccentric guests looking for Southern hospitality and gourmet breakfasts. I have included recipes reflecting the content of each chapter and descriptions of how and why many of them were developed at our inn.

I am co-author and editor of Room At The Table, a cookbook written for the Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky, for which I won the president's Award in 2009. In addition to maintaining several websites and several blogs, I write online for examiner.com, eyeonlife.com, Pink Magazine, Salon,  and Hub Pages. A teacher of music and English, I have taught and written creative nonfiction, poetry and lyrics throughout my adult life.

Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a 65,000-word memoir, combines wit and humor with delicious recipes, a subject that may appeal to a wide audience—more specifically, to women ready to reinvent themselves, whether they are starting a second career late in life, coming out of a divorce, or forced by the recession to stop mid-career and rethink their options. In addition, it may appeal to the same audiences of books by Ruth Reichl and Maya Angelou.

A manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your kind consideration,

Query Critique

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should we, as writer's, ever experiment with narrative form?

I actually started writing my memoir a couple of years ago without even realizing it. I joined a writers site and began posting as often as I could, which was just about every day. I wrote articles on every topic I could think of. I even wrote poems...a whole slew of them. I got hooked on writing short pieces. I wrote about Johnny Depp, how to plant and take care of an herb garden, and how to make Christmas cookies. I had the attitude there was no topic I couldn't write about. I was encouraged by all the good feedback I got from my readers.

Then I started writing about things that were closer to me;  my interest and expertize in music, my work as a teacher and as an Innkeeper, and closest of all, my family. I wrote about my mother and how she translated everything in life into something positive. I wrote about my father who was a jazz musician. And I wrote about my grandmother, who was the rock of the family. The only family I didn't write about were my daughters. They both told me they were off limits.

When I wrote my first post about my bed and breakfast, I received a lot of feedback...all positive. Readers said they wanted more. By this time, I was more relaxed in my writing and felt extremely comfortable writing first person narratives and publishing them on-line. So I continued writing about my experiences in the bed and breakfast and started grouping them under the title, Tales From an Innkeeper's Crypt. Pretty soon I had quite a following just waiting for new tales. After a while they started encouraging me to make a collection of all my stories.

I thought about it. And thought about it. I wasn't real sure I was up to it, but one day, I decided I would write a memoir of the seventeen years I'd been an Innkeeper, rewriting the basic stories I already had and adding more.  I just wrote and wrote, not paying much attention to the format. I finally ended up with around fifteen chapters, in no particular order.

I've been working on my stories for over a year and although they are coming together individually, I'm still not sure how to group them. Right now they are not grouped chronologically and I think they'll stay that way. Although most of the stories have a story arc, some do not. And I'm not sure I want to change that. The all-over narrative form does not seem to meet the traditional model. But I'm wondering if I should, as the title of this post suggests, experiment with the form.Would you?

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Friday, November 4, 2011

The narrative hook

"The narrative hook - also known as a literary hook - is the literary device whereby you hook the reader's attention and intrigue her enough so that she'll keep reading.

When a reader (whether a beta reader, or a literary agent or publisher, or hopefully a real-life genuine member-of-the-public reader) - picks up your book, you literally have only seconds to impress him or her.

There is so much competition for that reader's attention - whether it's the slushpile, (in the case of agent or publisher) or all the other books in the bookshop (in the case of the end-use reader).

And so, he or she will only allocate a very short period of time - maybe as few as thirty seconds! - to deciding if your work is worth reading.

Therefore, your job as the writer is to make absolutely sure that the answer to that question (“Is it worth my while reading on?”) is an absolute categorical 'yes!' - and the narrative hook is one way to do that.

The most popular way to use a narrative hook - and the easiest to carry off too - is to pose a question in your reader's mind, so that she just has to read on to find out the answer to that question.

There are two options here. The first is to pose the dramatic question early (e.g. Will the hero save the world?). The reader will have to read the whole book to find out the answer to that one!

The other option is to pose a smaller question (examples are given below, in the list of opening lines of famous novels). And, of course, by the time you've provided the answer to that question, you'll already have posed another question to keep her reading to find out that answer, and so on. As I often say: a writer's first job is to keep her readers reading!

Popular advice is to begin in medias res, which literally means in the middle of things. This surely has the advantage of intriguing and hooking the reader. It's not without its difficulties though, as whatever happened to get the characters in that situation then becomes back-story with all the challenges that entails."

excerpt from: www.fiction-writers-mentor.com/narrative-hook.html

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