Tag Archives: AW Interviews

AW Exposed: Jim Clark-Dawe

I’m so excited to introduce this week’s interviewee. Rather famous on AW for his critiquing skills, he prowls the query forum, fondly known as Query Letter Hell (QLH), to poke and prod our shapeless messes of words into things that resemble query letters. Today, he talks about his own journey to publication, his “results-oriented” approach to critique, and the best way to craft a perfect query. Thanks for dropping by, Jim!

AW Identity:
Screen Name: jclarkdawe
Post Count: Somewhere around 5k. About 80% of them in QLH.
Favorite Forum: You need to ask?
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? It’s hard to separate out. Most things are learned from a variety of sources, combined with past knowledge, to form a new whole.


In real life, you are… You mean AW isn’t real life? I’m going to have to talk to Mac about that.
Book title(s): EQUINE LIABILITY, published back in 2001. It’s sold through and my publisher and I discussed a reprint about two years ago. However, in looking at the market and economy, we decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Unfortunately for the nation’s economy, our decision turned out right.
Genre: Legal/Animals

You’re AW’s query king. All of us (including myself) have been in your debt at some point or another for tearing our query to shreds — and making it lots better. What’s your best advice for a stunning query?

A stunning book. It’s that simple. A query isn’t going to be much better than the book, unless you fake it. Most people are trying to query their first novel, and they’d do better putting it in a trunk and starting a new one. Then again, I tried selling my first book. Query sucked, book sucked. When you’re ready to start sending out queries, put your manuscript to one side and ignore it while you write your second book. It’s going to be a lot better than your first one.

Meanwhile with your query, just keep sending it out. You’re either going to sink or swim, and most likely sink. But you try drowning enough times, you’ll probably learn how to swim. Or give up.

On the flip side, what are the most common query mistakes you see in Query Letter Hell — or, excuse me, the Query forum?

Thinking that 200 words is easy. A lot of people have a schedule where they allot time to edit their book, then figure 200 words, maybe a week, then query, and in three months they’ll have a publisher. It’s not likely to happen, although it can. If you are writing commercially, as opposed for your own amusement, you need to start thinking about marketing from the beginning.

On average, how many drafts do you see writers working through before their query is ready for submission?

Absolutely no idea. And most people don’t post all of their versions, which is a good thing. Some people do it in a couple, others can be back and forth for a year or more.

Any encouragement for writers who are struggling through the millionth one?

Queries come when they’re ready. The more you try to force them, the less likely they are to come. As with most writing, queries involve a mixture of conscious and subconscious thoughts. But people in QLH are usually trying to force it, and that doesn’t work.

How has critiquing others influenced and improved your own writing?

Simple answer is when you look at someone else’s writing and think something is crap, you realize the same thing in your book isn’t going to smell any better.

It’s hard to distance yourself from your own writing. But analyzing someone else’s work can help you learn how to do it to your work. As you critique someone else, and see something that isn’t working, you have to ask yourself why. And then when you look at your own work, you can apply it.

Parts of editing can be easily taught and learned. Grammar, sentence structure, and POV are rather mechanical and have certain rules to guide you. Pacing and voice though are difficult concepts to explain, and even harder to figure out. Until you start criticizing someone else because the author had an inconsistent voice, or you tell someone that something is dragging, do you start to develop the ability to see that in your own work.

Talk about your own query letters. Are you on your own quest for representation? If so, how’s it going? If not, what stage are you in right now?

With EQUINE LIABILITY, I didn’t use an agent. There were only five publishers who would have been interested in it, and all were small. The numbers generated from it weren’t going to be amazingly high and there was no possibility of foreign sales. So the contract was very straight-forward.

After that, I tried writing a couple of novels, even finishing one. About the only positive thing I can really say about it was it got finished. About three years ago, I started writing THE NEXT STEP, which I felt had some serious potential. Queried it to about 130 agents, and landed Irene Kraas. She submitted it to editors at Penguin, Warner, Harper, Holt, and a few others. Response was consistent that the writing was good, but the lack of plot would make it hard to sell.

So last August, we stopped submitting it, and I started rewriting it. I took the 48k in THE NEXT STEP, sliced another 8k from it, and then added another 38k and renamed the sucker ASHES TO ASHES. Right at the moment, I’m getting comments back from betas. By mid April, those suggestions will be incorporated into the manuscript. At that point, I’ll be running through it at least twice, including reading it out loud and another time having the computer read it to me.

I figure in May it will be going back to Irene. I’m hoping and expecting that her changes will probably be minimal, and that it will be back on submission in June. I think it’s going to be different enough to go back to the editors who liked the writing, and the plot problems are solved.

Net result of all this rejection is going to be what I think is a much better book.

When you critique a query, you get to the bottom of the problem — without sparing any words. This snarky, definitely blunt technique works, but it’s not the “compliment sandwich” that many people recommend. Firstly, why this method?

I tend to prefer results-oriented approaches. Bottom line is no matter how nice or mean I am doesn’t matter. A poster is going to get a lot more satisfaction from an agent requesting a partial than anything I can provide them with. And rejections are going to be a lot meaner than I’ll ever be. QLH should be all about results, not how good you feel.

Secondly, QLH gets a wide variety of critiquing methods, ranging from yours to the nicest compliment sandwich kind. What do you think works best, and in the end produces the best query?

Depends. But the depends is more about the writer than the style of the critique. People should focus on the message, not the presentation, of any critique. My way you have to focus on the negative, and there’s not much room to hide. Sandwiching can cause the person to focus on the positive and hide the negative. The net result should be the same, but it isn’t. But for some people, without the positive reinforcement, the negative overwhelms them.

My assumption, however, is that anyone entering QLH is ready to be professional. And although some agents and editors are good at hand-holding, many are not. Most of them are results-oriented people, looking to get through editing as quickly as possible. I can do an entire query’s line-editing in under five minutes, and most of that time is spent typing. Spending time to make a person feel good is frequently not in my schedule, and it’s the same thing with agents and editors.

Interestingly enough, when you talk with results-oriented people, like top level athletes, musicians, business people, and other people at the top of their professions, they recall the person who didn’t worry about how good they felt, but kicked their butt from here to there.

For a writer, especially with commercial interests (i.e., they want to get paid for their work), satisfaction should only come from seeing their work in print. And the satisfaction you get from seeing your words in print, and receiving an actual check, will quickly reduce to meaningless the comments on an online forum that your writing is the most wonderful thing they’ve seen.

But I’m well aware that for some people, anything negative is devastating. For these people, some of them do succeed through their natural abilities. However, they need to develop some sort of security blanket from the world. When a review gets published in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY that your book is the worst piece of crap the reviewer ever read, not only is it going to hurt, but it’s going to kill your career. If you have the internal ability to pick yourself up, great. If you have a security blanket to pick yourself up, great. If you lack both, then you’re just going to roll over and play the dead cockroach.

Without naming names if necessary, share a story from your time in QLH…

That would require that I actually remember something. That’s not likely to happen. Most of the amusing things in QLH occur off stage, in the comments and private messages (PMs) that are exchanged. And those are private. Mostly, QLH is just sad. Success is few and far between.

But I love it when I get a PM that says, “I cried when I read your critique, but thanks to QLH, I’ve now got an agent.” That’s the positive side to QLH.


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AW Exposed: Parametric

Parametric, a member on Absolute Write, dropped by today to share about fantasy world-building, the process of revisions, and the differences (or lack of differences) between YA and adult fiction. Welcome, Parametric!

AW Identity:
Screen Name: Parametric
Post Count: 4000+. Homework done: 0.
Favorite Forum: I’m not particularly attached to any one forum. I do have favourite threads: the Purgatory thread in Rejection & Dejection, and the Teens Writing for Teens thread in Young Adult.
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? How to tell a good agent from bad at a hundred paces. I lurked the Bewares & Background Checks forum in a seriously obsessive way — I read every post without exception for the longest time.

In real life, you are… A 21-year-old final-year law undergraduate aiming for a masters degree in publishing. I’m a major-league recluse: I only venture out for lectures and our once-a-week writing group, where we do absolutely no writing but plenty of indulging our inner geeks. I’ve written four novels of dubious quality.
Book title: IRONBANE
Genre: Fantasy
Blog: http://universityoffantasy.blogspot.com

Describe your most current work-in-progress in 50 words or less.

Notorious general Ironbane is in hiding when her new home village is threatened. So she decides to lead two hundred civilians in defence of their homes, while hanging onto her cover as an ordinary woman — because if her cover is blown she’ll be executed.

Also, zombies.

Talk about Holly Lisle’s One Pass Revision Method, which you’ve been using on your novel IRONBANE. What are the basic ideas behind this method, and how has it been helpful in shaping your novel?

I suspect my use of the One-Pass Method may not be anything like what Holly Lisle intended, so I apologise in advance if I lead anyone astray!

The One-Pass Method is a method for revising your manuscript in one pass. You do some preliminary work aimed at identifying the heart of the story, you read through and annotate the printed manuscript, you type up the corrections. Finish.

I love the first part of this process, the part Holly Lisle calls her “discovery stage”, so much that I don’t even wait until revisions. Before I start any novel I go through very similar questions. Themes. One-line summary. One-paragraph summary. When I get to revisions, I want to be able to nail down the key story without thinking twice. (I find it’s also helpful for query-writing.)

At the moment, I’m working on the second part, what Holly Lisle calls the “slog” — editing on paper. This is a first for me and I’m enjoying it. It’s kind of satisfying to see real, tangible progress as my scribbles eat up more and more of the paper. I’m also building up a notebook of big-picture problems.

I should wait until the end to start typing up corrections, but my critique partner is very demanding! Chapters, she says. Inbox. Now. Best just to do as she says.

As a fantasy writer, you’re constantly building new worlds. Where do you find inspiration for creating these worlds, and how do you make them feel as real as this one?

Can I make a confession? I do as little world-building as possible. As a reader and writer of epic fantasy, I’m working in a genre dominated by gigantically huge series set in vast worlds with dozens of countries and thousands of years of history. I’ve choked down so much world-building I’ve come to hate the taste. I speak as a bitter survivor — I once spent three hundred pages world-building before I ever started chapter one. (I was eleven. Don’t judge me.)

So my world-building process is streamlined. First, I pick a familiar setting to serve as a base, in this case the kind of generic fantasy world Diana Wynne Jones satirises in her TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND. Then I give it a twist or three. IRONBANE is set on the edge of human civilisation, among the bones of the titular protagonist’s war, in a tiny little village at risk of becoming just another ruin. It’s a world where God is reborn every spring and dies every autumn. It’s now midwinter, and God is dead, and humanity is fighting to survive.

Also, did I mention the zombies?

You write some adult urban fantasy, some YA urban fantasy. What do you think defines the YA genre and how do the voices of your YA protagonists differ from the voices of your adult protagonists?

I’m new to YA, so I hope I can navigate this minefield without blowing anything up.

I’m not sure I see YA as wildly different from other genres. What I love about adult fiction maps directly onto YA fiction. Compelling protagonist. Fascinating character interactions. Tons of conflict. Snappy dialogue. The only distinction I can confidently draw is that a YA protagonist needs to be a teenager, perhaps fifteen to eighteen years old, and it might be best to play up the romance angle. (I’m 20k into my YA novel and there are already three cute boys.)

To be honest, I’m scared of making the wrong assumptions about YA. I’m like a guest in the YA house, and I don’t want to stomp all over my hosts in big stompy boots telling them what they do and don’t like. So I’d rather err on the side of assuming common ground. I’d love to learn about this from more experienced YA writers and readers, so I hope they comment!

In my paranoid moments I worry that there’s a trick to writing YA, some earth-shattering secret I don’t know, and therefore my first YA novel is going to be a disaster on a scale not previously known to man. Should I be making dramatic changes to my writing? Is there a secret handshake? I don’t know. This is like sailing into the Arctic looking for the Northwest Passage. Pretty soon you’ll be sending out search parties.

My YA protagonist Fox is rather crazy, by the way. I fear I will entertain only crazy readers.

Imagine you can spend a day with one of your characters. Who would it be and why?

Most characters I love to write would not be fun to hang out with. They’re crazy, or they’re obsessive, or they’re borderline evil. Everything I find fascinating in a character makes for terrible company! If I had to pick, I’d take Kate Dean from my urban fantasy THE INFERNAL FAMILY. She’s sweet, she’s cuddly, she likes people. Plus she’s a super cute redhead and I’m shallow.


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AW Exposed: Rebecca

This week, Rebecca Latimer – college-student, AW member, and writer – shares about her WIP, her crazy-fast writing skills, and the importance of balance in query letters.

AW Identity:
Screen Name: Witch_turtle (I chose the name because there is a stuffed turtle wearing a witch’s hat and cape that sits on my writing desk)
Post Count: 50-ish
Favorite Forum: Novels and SYW
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? That writing is not the lonely business it can seem to be. There is a huge network of individuals in all parts of the industry – writers, agents, editors, etc – who share a passion. We all want success, for ourselves and for others. It’s not a competition, it’s a team. You don’t have to stand alone and keep everything to yourself, because there is always someone to help, and improvement comes faster with that support.

In real life, you are… A 19-year old college student, avid reader, and drinker of tea. I am also an artist. I am Canadian (and therefore use Canadian/British spelling, woohoo!), and I live in the far north where it is almost always dark and ridiculously cold. I forgot how to ride a bike, but I can run. I am someone who thoroughly enjoys making throwback costumes for Halloween (my best was Felix the Cat). I love animals, nature, sunlight, vegetables, having strange dreams, and looking at the stars. But first and foremost, I’m a writer.
Book title: Umm…for the time being I’m considering “Afterton,” but a title for this book is something I’ve sadly been struggling with.
Genre: Low-fantasy with a literary edge

The woods near my house, which resemble the eerie woods I describe in my novel

Summarize your current WIP in 50 words or less.
Skelon is kidnapped from his dystopian city by a dying sorceress queen, who makes him heir to her nightmare kingdom. But Skelon has been ripped away from his beloved twin sister. He must make the heartbreaking choice between two hellish worlds and two powerful obsessions, and then fight for that choice.

When did you start writing seriously — and what sparked your love of writing?
Elementary school. Short story assignments. I was the only kid in class who got excited about them. When I got into junior high and realized those days were over, I started writing on my own. I was between the ages of 11 and 12 when I wrote my first “novel,” a 60K-word cliche monster I was sure would get published. Instead it went into a drawer and was forgotten. For the next 4ish years I worked on other novels here and there, never getting very far with anything. I was 16 when I was hit with the very serious need to become a writer. I completed 2 novels in the space of a year, but the editing process was VERY long and sadly disastrous for both of them. That’s when I was struck with the inspiration for my current WIP, which has so far been far more successful than all previous attempts.

You say that you prefer to write stories in which the fates of smaller groups of characters are at stake, rather than more epic tales where the fate of the whole world is at stake. Talk about how you build readers’ interests in your characters and ramp up the tension without hanging the fate of the world in the balance.
My writing tends to be emotionally charged. When the main character loves something with every fibre of his being, it is my main goal to write it in such a way that the reader feels that love too. The same goes for pain or fear. I believe people relate to these personal-struggle type stories because that’s what people face in their everyday lives. My characters exist in bizarre worlds and circumstances, but their feelings are very real and honest. They get into trouble, make mistakes, and their situation gets worse. I also have a tendency to give my characters a lot of internal struggles, which I think makes everything far more interesting. The trouble builds up. Something really bad happens. Basically, the progression from bad to worse to worst, and the coinciding emotions of the characters who are living that progression, are the most important factors in my writing.

You wrote your first draft (100K words) in 2 months. Share the secret! How do you write so quickly?
This is going to sound so cheesy, but it’s true . . . It began with powerful inspiration. I felt something I had never felt before — a desperate, unstoppable need to get this story out. I was working as a file clerk at an industrial site at the time (which, coincidentally, was very inspiring for the gloomy society in the novel), and often I would find myself scrawling ideas and scenes on scrap pieces of paper. When I actually started writing the first draft, everything just poured out of me. There were times when I would write 10K words a day for several days in a row, which is insane and I have no idea how I managed it, though it probably had something to do with me becoming a hermit on my days off. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without feeling as much passion about this project as I do.

Another factor in my speedy writing is plain old impatience. I get so excited for something to be “done,” just for it to exist, that I do it as quickly as possible. Of course, that leads to much longer revision periods than might otherwise be needed!

You’re also diving into the query process for your novel. What have you been learning about the art of snagging agents’ attention?
I think the most helpful knowledge I’ve gained about query letters on AW is how important it is to balance everything in them. Balance straightforwardness with intrigue, balance professionalism with passion, and balance the most important details with the very basics of what your book is about. It’s so easy to over-simplify and make things unclear, or to focus on the wrong details for the sake of drama. That’s why the SYW forum is so awesome — there is always somebody to point those flaws out, always somebody to learn from. I’ve been practising writing queries since I finished my first draft, and thanks to AW I’m confident that by the time I’m ready to start knocking on doors, I’ll have something that I’ll be proud to show to an agent (and hopefully that will grab them!)

Two parts to this question: what’s the best YA book you’ve read recently and what did it teach you about writing?
I don’t read a lot of YA, but one of the most recent that I enjoyed was “Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier. It’s a twist on the old fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” It has that old fairytale charm I adore, but it’s also very unique and fresh. That book is a prime example of how brilliant a story can be when everything has a purpose, when all the subtle foreshadowing (which, by the way, is one of my absolute favourite techniques in writing), various subplots, and past events come together at the end, and the reader is struck with that glorious realization that everything is tied together.

I also want to mention “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende. I’m not sure if it’s technically YA or childrens literature, but it taught me a similar lesson about how awesome it is when everything in the story has meaning behind it, although in this case it’s more of a philosophical meaning than interwoven purpose. What I took away from both stories is that the imagination of an author can be an incredible thing if put to use properly.

Finally, if you could have any actor or actress star in a movie-version of your book, who would it be and why?
This is such a tough question! It’s hard to think of someone who would perfectly encompass one of my characters. I think I would choose Rachel Weisz to be the mother of my main characters. It’s a very small role (she only appears in one chapter), but an interesting role. Outwardly cold, inwardly tender, just not quite knowing how to be a mother and so focuses on everything and anything else. There is one particular scene in which her tenderness does show through, albeit awkwardly, and it’s one of my favourite snippets of the book. I think Rachel Weisz is beautiful and could pull off that almost-double persona quite nicely.

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AW Exposed: Sandy Shin

This week, AW member Sandy Shin shares about her writing, her art, and social networking. She’s also a college student like me — college students, unite!

And Sandy has turned this into a doubly-exciting post, because she’s hosting a contest! It’s a two-blog contest: check out her blog for guidelines, then come back here to enter (just comment) to win a character sketch by Sandy herself. Deadline: Feb 1st.

AW Identity:
Screen Name: Sandy Shin
Post Count: 90 (I should stop lurking and start posting more…)
Favorite Forum: Novels and Young Adult
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? I’ve learned so much through the AW forums, from the craft of writing to the nitty gritty of the publishing process. The most important lesson I got, however, is this: “A writer is someone who writes.” I was one of those writers who sit and wait for inspirations to strike, and who are afraid of writing the terrible first drafts. AW taught me (through millions of post all say the same thing) that the only way to get better as a writer is to write everyday, even when all that come out are rubbish. It’s an invaluable lesson.


In real life, you are… a third year university student majoring in Biology and English who hopes to go to medical/pharmacy school after college.
Book title: NOT FATED
Genre: YA contemporary fantasy
Blog: www.sandyshin.com

Sandy's self-portrait

Summarize your current WIP, NOT FATED, in 50 words or less.

Yuki uses her ability to see the red thread of destiny that connects two soulmates to match-make, through fair means and foul. When her soulmate appears and the threads begin to disintegrate, she must fight to save everybody’s loves, even if it means losing the one boy she cares for.

You’re not just any YA writer: you’re a YA writer who is a young adult. One, how do you balance all that comes with being a young adult, like college and social life, with your writing?

As a world-class procrastinator, I struggle with this. A lot of time, I fail. Miserably. However, there’s one advice I’ve tried to internalized: free times to write don’t present themselves in neat, long blocks — you have to make them, carve them out of time you’d rather spent watching movies, blogging, chatting. It means I don’t socialize much, don’t hang out with friends every night (good thing I’m an introvert!). It’s difficult. I am still a toddler at juggling things — a baby, really. But I hope, one day, to be able to run.

Two: what distinct perspective do you feel that you bring, as a young adult, to the YA genre?

Each teenager is different. My own experience is different from everybody else’s. However, the feelings I felt growing up are shared by many, and it is those feelings that I hope to convey in my writing.

As writers, we have to be social networkers. Rachelle Gardner tweeted this just last week: “It’s crucial to apply your own personal cost/benefit formula to the amount of time you spend online networking.” Speak to the advantages of social networking that you’ve seen as a blogger and twitterer. Any disadvantages?

There are so many advantages to being a blogger and twitterer (and Facebooker, etc.)! As a beginner, blogging and tweeting introduced me to so many wonderful writers that I’d never have met otherwise. Writing can be a lonely and solitary process, and connecting with other writers and learning that I’m not alone give me the energy to keep writing, keep learning. For me, that’s the most important part of social networking. If/when I get published, I do hope to use social networking to promote my books, garner readers, etc. However, that’s a long way off. Right now, blogging and tweeting are just fun to do. 🙂

The huge disadvantage: social networking eats away at your time until you have little time left for anything else. As an Internet-addict, it’s difficult for me to disconnect myself from the web–and blogger and twitter just make it that much more difficult. :<

You’re an artist as well. Are your writing and drawing separate endeavors, or do they mix together? If so, how?

When I was younger, my writing and drawing used to be complementary. The majority of my old sketches are scenes and characters from my stories and novels. However, as I grew older, writing became more important and drawing less. Nowadays, I only doodle whatever strikes my fancy during sleep-inducing lectures.

I don’t sketch character profiles for my WiPs because I can’t commit my characters’ physical attributes to lines. They never look quite right. Personalities are so much easier to create. I do hope that’ll change in the future, though!

Finally, you win a lunch-date with any YA author you want. Who’ll it be?

Oh, that’s difficult. I have so many. If forced, I’d say Megan Whalen Turner, because I love the Attolia series to death and there is so little information about her online. 🙂


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AW Exposed: Phaeal

This week, Absolute Write‘s Phaeal (also known as Anne Pillsworth) takes the AW: Exposed spotlight. She’s an urban fantasy writer, Share-Your-Work (SYW) forums critiquer, and self-proclaimed Trekkie. Here she is, exposed!

AW Identity:

Screen Name: Phaeal (Yes, I’m a geek. This is the name of my character in an online Star Trek roleplaying game. She’s a proud Romulan and a proud Star Fleet officer, and if you don’t like it, prepare for a long philosophical discussion of how those contradictory states can be reconciled. Or else a butt-whupping. Depends on her mood.)
Post Count:
2849. Wow, really?
Favorite Forum:
I’m rather fond of the squirrels in Query Letter Demolition, er, Share Your Work.

What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? Persevere, persevere, persevere. Also, there’s no such thing as the last draft, only the latest one. The latest one may be good enough. Open the window to see if it can fly yet.

In real life, you are: A long-time resident of the Providence, Rhode Island area. New England informs much of my fiction, from its gritty post-industrial towns to those mystic rose-gray sunsets between the church spires and over the bay. I live in an old house with a witch’s garden full of urbane cats, raccoons, skunks and the occasional coyote.
Book title: SUMMONED
Genre: Urban fantasy

Summarize your current WIP, RIVER RISING, in 50 words or less.

Feriel should have been lord of Gyrden Fief. Treachery kills his father, drives his family to suicide, and leaves him first a fugitive, then a slave. His best friend may turn out to be the right hand man of his worst enemy, if Feriel can learn to trust him.

We all have a time we look back on as the moment we knew we were writers. Or knew we wanted to write. Or knew we just had something to say. What was yours?

I think it was in fifth grade, when I wrote a very short story about Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. I had always been in love with fiction, rereading my favorite novels to shreds. This was the first fic I worked hard on, and something about it convinced me I could do this stuff.

I always need a notepad on a long walk — that’s when I get most of my ideas for my WIP. Where do you go (or what to you do) to seek inspiration and ideas?

Walking is good — if I stroll along vaguely mulling over a plot issue, the repetitive motion often jars answers loose.

My patented idea-generation system is the plot bunny hutch. Ideas as short as one sentence or as long as several paragraphs go into my bunny notebook. Whenever I get further notions about a particular idea, I go to the notebook and append these to the original bunny. Being bunnies, the hutched ideas interbreed and produce hybrid ideas. The hybrids usually do display hybrid vigor — again and again, it takes the mating of two or more isolated bunnies to produce a finished short story. Novels may take the mating of a dozen bunnies.

I listen to National Public Radio all day and capture many plot bunnies from it. The mix of commentary on politics, sociology, art, music, literature, science, and the quirky human condition seems just right for my idea receptors. Who couldn’t love the recent complaint to the Car Guys about Madagascar hissing roaches infesting a BMW?

Barnes and Noble’s writing section is full of how-to writing books. Help us out: What book (on writing) has most influenced your prose, your plots, or the way you write?

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is far and away my favorite inspirational book. I laugh, I cry, I get excited, I laugh some more.

I’ve read tons of writing instruction books and gotten good tips out of most of them. One of my favorites is Christopher Derrick’s The Writing of Novels (Reader’s Report in England.) I suspect this gem is out of print, but it’s worth looking for. Another favorite (and in print) is by Thomas McCormack: The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist. I’m always pushing this book. It’s dense, idiosyncratic, incisive, illuminating and brilliant.

For beginners, nothing better than Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. You can learn most of the basics and terminology from this book. Plus it has cartoons by George Booth. Nuff said.

Your AW signature pictures a couple smiley faces waving white flags — you’ve labelled them agents. So… how’s the query process going? Any advice for others fighting the same battle?

The battle rages on! I’ve gotten some excellent advice from agents who’ve looked at the MS and am currently revising it yet again — remember that AW-gleaned advice from above? No last draft, only a latest draft. I’m excited by the results and will soon be hitting the campaign trail again. Where’d I put those nunchucks?

As for advice to my fellow submission ninjas: Get ye to Query Letter Hell and check your ego at the door. The smell of ego will inflame the squirrels to a yet bloodier frenzy. Be open to all responses. Be ready to go back to the revision board if necessary. Never give up until you’ve done all you can for your current MS. And be writing your next while you sub! It’s the best balm for the inevitable rejections.

You call yourself a “former perfectionist still struggling to stay clean”. Looking back on those days, what were the pros and cons of being a perfectionist? How has becoming a non-perfectionist improved your writing?

Perfectionism is a trap. It posits that there is a single ideal, and that this ideal is obtainable. Wrong and wrong. We can’t make our work perfect. However, we can make it the best work of which we are capable at any given moment. Hey, look, a theme! We’re back once more to: No last draft, only the latest draft.

Perfectionism can also be a mechanism for avoiding failure or even effort. “Oh, I can’t do this book yet because I’m not up to making it perfect. I’ll put it off. Oh, this story isn’t perfect yet, so I won’t send it out to the magazines. Oh, I’m perfect, as long as no one tells me I’m not.” All very dangerous attitudes.

I used to think my first draft had to be my last, so I rarely finished a story or novel. I’ve learned that first drafts (and seconds and even thirds) can be crap, and that’s cool, because crap is the best fertilizer. I now tend to bang out outlines that get more and more detailed, that include more and more fleshed out scenes and more and more stretches of dialogue until they become super-rough first drafts. This allows my “official” first draft to look relatively smooth, and that’s a big encouragement to me.

I’ve also learned how to free write whenever I hit a snag or feel blocked. I free write in all caps, with little punctuation — this seems to tell my brain that it’s okay if I’m not making sense or looking pretty, because IM JUST HAVING FUN AND MESSING AROUND OKAY COOL NOW ABOUT WHAT JESSICA SHOULD DO ABOUT THE MADAGASCAR HISSING COCKROACHES IN HER MOMS BMW…

Last off: Your wildest publishing dream is going to come true! What is it?

With the revenue from my novels, I’ve bought a big house in Cape Cod, which I’ve converted into a writing retreat. I’ll write here. So will my writing friends. So will yet-unpublished writers who’ve applied for a free stay at the house. The only criterion for admission: I like their writing. I want them to write lots more, so I can read it.

I’d also love to go to WorldCon and see tons of people dressed up like my characters, including the ones with tentacles. Okay, especially the ones with tentacles.

But ultimately, I’d love to have readers cry over my books, as I’ve cried over the best books, not because the story is sad but because it’s so RIGHT. Yeah. Back to the latest draft!


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AW Exposed: Birol

This week, Absolute Write moderator Birol stopped by to share a bit about her career as a writer and editor, and also to speak about everything AW can offer its community of writers. So here’s Lori Basiewicz, exposed!

AW Identity

Screen Name: Birol
Post Count: An extraordinarily large number that would embarrass me if I were to actually know it.
Favorite Forum: Absolute Write, of course! Oh… You mean which forum on AW is my favorite? Um… That’s a tough one. I should say Novels, because I moderate it, but probably the non-existent mod room, or the Roundtable (I used to moderate it, too) because that’s where all the different types of writing come together and therefore it’s representative of what AW is all about, or the Goals and Accomplishment forum because it’s representative of what AW can do for writers, or the Freelancing forum because that’s what first drew me to AW, or Bewares & Background checks because that’s where writers learn what to watch out for and where the concept of paying it forward is most readily visible, or… The thing is, AW’s not about the forums. Never has been. It’s about the people. I cannot choose one forum over the other any more than I can choose one person over the other.


In real life, you are… I hope that you’re not implying my career as a writer is imaginary, because in real life, I am very much a writer and an editor, but if you’re trying to get at who I am aside from being a writer and a member of AW, then I am many things. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a friend. I am a student, an administrative assistant, a martial artist, and a bibliophile. I am a dreamer and a traveler. I am someone who is both shy and assertive. I like to be alone in my own space and my own head, and I like to know what is going on out in the world and with others. And, yes, I am also a writer and an editor. In the end, I’m just me, with all the annoying contradictions that involves.
Book title:
Long Way From Tomorrow (to be published in late 2010 or early 2011); Child of Fate (in progress)
LWFT is science fiction. Child of Fate would be an urban fantasy?
The Commune

We all know you as a member of the AW Mod Squad. Firstly, you must invest a lot of your time on the boards. What drives you to commit such a big chunk of time to the writers, lurkers and learners at AW?

I sometimes ask myself that same question. In the beginning, it was a sense of belonging. Then and now, it’s about being able to pay it forward – yes, I know I’m using that phrase a lot in this interview, but it’s an important concept. When I first decided to become a writer (I was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12), there wasn’t an internet and a lot of these very basic questions that AW answers weren’t easy to learn. Oh, sure, I could figure out how to tell a story, but the business of selling it? It was a complete mystery that I had to work to uncover. When I found AW – I was in my 20’s by then and the internet was in nearly every home in the United States – a lot of things were answered in a very short time by writers who had come before me, or who were at least ahead of me on the curve. Now, it’s my turn to return the favor. In time, it will be someone else’s turn. Maybe yours, maybe someone reading this. That’s how AW works.

Secondly, you have an insider perspective on how AW works. What do you see as the top benefits (and maybe drawbacks, too) of any writer’s being a part of this community? How has it enhanced your own writing?

Has AW enhanced my writing? Yes and no. AW as a forum helped provide me with a solid knowledge of how the business of publishing works and how to evaluate opportunities. AW as a forum did not help me so much with the craft of writing, but some very special people who I met on AW, and who I would never have known otherwise, became my much-beloved writer’s group and they continue to help me grow as a writer and a person. AW also provided me with some industry connections that led me to opportunities I would not have had otherwise, including my current editing gig.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t people whose writing hasn’t been enhanced by AW. That’s the thing about Absolute Write – each of us get something different from it and leave something different behind for others. For me, help with craft wasn’t what I was looking for when I first turned up on the Water Cooler’s virtual doorstep. I’d already been published in local magazines and was specifically looking for business advice. Others show up at different times in their development, with different needs.

It was also a bonus that it was a community of largely like-minded individuals, people who got what I was trying to do and going through, who could understand what a huge deal a first rejection was, for example, without having to have it explained to them.

The drawback of AW, or any writers’ forum, is simple: They are time-sucks. Time spent on forums could just as easily be spent writing. You’ll often hear me talk about balance and that’s true with AW, too. Yes. It’s great to belong to a community of writers, to be able to talk about craft with them, to be able to hang out with them any time of day or night, but if you’re not actually practicing that craft, then all the talk in the world does little to help you advance as a writer. At some point, writers have to actually write. If all their free time is being spent on a writer’s forum, any writer’s forum, then that’s not happening.

On your blog, you describe yourself as a “freelance writer and editor”. What do you write — and what do you edit?

I’m currently working as a freelance editor for Aspen Mountain Press, a small e-book publisher that is in the midst of going to print, at least partially. As for writing, mainly right now, I’m working on my graduate thesis – if you poke around the internet, you will discover I’ve been working on it far too long – and I really want to get it finished by May. With that in mind, most other writing projects are taking a backseat to it.

After that is finished, I will return to working on novels, short stories, and writing for magazines as well as pursue a couple of other academic projects that have caught my interest. Oh, and I will be madly editing and rewriting my first novel, which has been accepted for publication. That’s the current plan, anyway.

You must write for a variety of markets, but what’s your favorite topic/genre?

I really don’t have a favorite. My fiction tends to be mainstream or science fiction/urban fantasy.

Freelance writers have to be close friends with self-promotion. What are the most important things you’ve learned about finding good markets, building a list, and generating income?

Never stop looking. Seriously, the minute you stop looking for markets is the minute the market you’ve come to depend on goes belly up or changes direction or… It’s just best to stay diversified and keep putting yourself out there.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask. If you hear about a market you’d like to break into and you discover another writer who already has a connection there, don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction or a referral, don’t be afraid to e-mail someone out of the blue and ask for work. If you want to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head, you can’t let pride, shyness, or any other hang-up get in your way.

2010 is still brand new: What are your goals for the coming year?

Funny story: I’d been working on my goals and had jotted them down on a piece of paper. Where that paper ended up is anyone’s guess. Mine is the laundry, or the trash. Anyway, here’s a rough outline of what I hope to accomplish in 2010:

  • Finish thesis.
  • Rewrite and edit Long Way From Tomorrow per contract
  • Finish and submit Child of Fate
  • Start either Lily’s Song or The Sorting
  • Edit 12 novels or novellas.
  • Finish next academic essay.
  • Submit at least 2 academic essays for publication at respected journals.
  • Acquire 2nd regular editing gig or regular freelancing assignment.

There’s a few other things I’d like to accomplish, too, but they are less concrete.


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AW Exposed: Jessi Kirby

To kick off this winter’s interview series, Absolute Write: Exposed, in which I interview random AW members to discover who they are in the real world and what they have to say about writing, I’ve asked one of my writing buddies to share a few words about the personality behind her AW screen name, JKirbs. She’s an encouraging friend and a talented writer all mixed into one ambitious gal who recently signed with big-name agent Leigh Feldman, who also reps Sarah Dessen. So here’s Jessi Kirby, exposed!

AW Identity:
Screen Name:
st Count: 32– I guess I’m more of a reader than a poster…
Favorite Forum:
YA SYW. I love seeing what’s out there.
The best lesson she’s learned from AW:
That we all need help, input, critique, and that there are wonderful people full of amazing advice on AW.

In real life, I’m an aspiring writer (of course), wife to a lifeguard, mom of two, middle school librarian, who used to be an English teacher. Also an avid sea glass collector, runner, and coffee drinker.
Book title: MOONGLASS
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Your YA novel, MOONGLASS, is already making waves in the publishing industry. Tell us about your recent query-letter successes!

There wouldn’t have been any if I hadn’t posted my first query on AW. Thanks to those on the Query thread and their invaluable critiques, it went through eight drafts before I sent it out and crossed my fingers. I got a fair amount of auto-reject replies, and then a few partials that turned into fulls.

You set MOONGLASS on the beaches of your hometown. Besides giving you a distinct visual advantage, how did living on the set of MOONGLASS influence the book?

Crystal Cove

The beach here is a constant source of inspiration because it has so many different faces. Some days are full of the things that everyone associates with carefree summer days–crystal water, cute lifeguards, sunscreen drifting on the breeze. Others are tumultous and stormy or more empty and peaceful than you could imagine. I tried to somehow fit all of those into the story.

Most recently, you’ve been working through some revisions with several people who are interested in taking on MOONGLASS. Collaborating is both difficult and exciting: how do you deal with suggestions that you might not initially agree with? How do you see MOONGLASS improving as you rework the story?

the crazy, color-coded revision board

As with any critique I’ve gotten in the past, I read, re-read, then go for a run and think about it. Then I ask my friends who’ve read it, take what they say, and think about it some more. The most important thing I do though, is make an outline of what’s already there, then allow myself room to play with the changes and see how it could turn out. (See picture) Honestly, I thought I was going to hate revising, but I’m in the middle of it and so happy with what the end result will be. I’m hoping that it will be much more layered and refined when it’s done.

Just a week ago, you met up with an agent who was really interested in MOONGLASS (and now represents it!). And not only that, you served her lunch in your very own home and gave her a tour of MOONGLASS’s beaches. Spill the details! What was it like to meet your agent face-to-face?

Best New Years’ Eve I’ve ever had, hands down. It was a total coincidence, but she ended up staying just up the road from me for something else and got in touch to see if we could meet for coffee. Instead, I invited her over to my house (no babysitter) and, after I got over the initial nervousness of having her there in the flesh, we got a chance to really talk about my story and revision ideas. She asked a million questions–questions that forced me to think about the core of the story and where I want it to go, and that was invaluable. It felt very surreal, and I rang in the new year with revision points spinning in my head!

MOONGLASS has already been described as both “commercial and literary” by people who know what they’re talking about. Wow. Obviously your novel has big potential — what is your wildest publishing dream?

So far my wildest publishing dream has been to actually be published and be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelf. Even buy a copy. After that? There’s this little thing called the Bestseller List… You said wild, right?


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