Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Playing "What if?" with the newspaper

The other day, I was reading an article in the newspaper about an apparent murder-suicide. What troubled me was that the writer of the article noted in his lead that the site of this tragedy was on the same street where a local teen girl was starved and murdered by torture at the hands of her mother in 2009. The mother recently was on trial (she was sentenced to death on Thursday). What I didn’t get was why the writer chose to start his article with this coincidence. Why mention the apparent murder-suicide happened on that same street? What’s the connection?

Unfortunately, there was no connection mentioned in the article, so why the writer chose to do that is a mystery to me. However, the writer in me started to wonder…”what if?”

What if it had NOT been a “murder-suicide”…but a murder? After all, police did not recover the murder weapon at the scene. (If they had, the writer should have mentioned this. I mean, where IS that murder weapon? Usually, if someone commits suicide with a gun, they find the gun used on the scene.) What if these people knew the mother and had information supporting her guilt? (There was a chance she’d get life in prison instead of the death penalty.) What if she’d managed to hire someone to murder those people so that they couldn’t say anything?

There was no connection in this newspaper article, but my imagination started to create one.

This hung with me for a while. It definitely has the stuff of a good mystery story.

And speaking of mystery, I had to laugh after I solved a Jumble puzzle in the newspaper the other day. I laughed because the words I unscrambled could easily be a secret message to warn someone of something: “Foyer,” “Album,” “Beware” and “Poison.”

Hm, another mystery story inspired by something I read in the newspaper? We’ll see.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Judging again

Not too long ago, a writer I knew through Absolute Write sent me an email asking if I’d like to be a judge in a writing contest. I was thrilled she asked me and so of course I said yes, asking her which categories were open for judges. Eventually, I picked the Poetry category. I received the entries for this category last week and look forward to reading all of them next week.

This will be my third experience as a judge in a writing contest. The first one was for Skyline, and the second was a writing contest for boomer writers created by my friend and fellow writer Martha Jette. For this one, it’s a writing contest created by a writing group in Oklahoma. I don't live in Oklahoma, so I guess this is not a requirement for the judges. I am just so excited about this opportunity and very thankful to this writer for thinking of me.

Plus, I get to read more poetry! Yay!

I love to read just about anything and it’s always a new experience being a judge in a writing contest. Of course, I cannot read the entries at leisure; I must analyze them with a critical eye and base my judgment on the contest criteria. Still, it’s a treat I will be able to read material that I may not otherwise have had the chance to read – let alone the world at large. So this is one other benefit of being a judge for a writing contest.

Additionally, using the criteria of a writing contest when I judge entries benefits me as a writer. The things I am told to look for in a winning entry are the same things which I should make sure can be found in my own writing. Comparing an entry to how I write that kind of particular work helps me to understand ways in which I can improve it. I also get to see little things to watch out for, and something just may make me see that kind of writing (in this case, poetry) in a whole new way.

I look forward to this experience and hope that there will be many more opportunities to be a judge for other writing contests later on down the road.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Wait! That's not what I meant!

This morning, I was surprised to learn that there is a woman in Spain who claims she is the legal owner of the sun, and that she is going to tax everyone who uses the sun in any way. (Yeah, good luck with that.) What’s interesting is that I came across a related news story in which former Vice President Al Gore sued this woman for global warming. When he was confronted by members of the media who remembered how Gore said in the past that the sun doesn’t cause global warming, people do, Gore apparently recanted and said, oh, it’s the sun after all.

This reminded me of a recent story I came across, in which author Amy Chua, who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, met so much controversy and outrage over some of the things she wrote about in her book. Her book claims Chinese parents are superior because they don’t allow their kids to have sleepovers or play video games (among other Western sins). After she met an angry throng of readers who don’t agree with her, she pulled the old switcheroo and said something like, “Oh, I was only poking fun at myself.”

OK, got it.

I know we can’t believe everything we read, but it seems wrong that an author would not defend what they have written. They went to all of that trouble, they put in all of that effort, and they're not going to stand by what they wrote? It's a shame, really.

Of course, we cannot say something is indeed “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because we are not privy to what other people are thinking or feeling (or what their intentions are when they are doing something), but it should still be as accurate as we authors can portray it to be. And we should stand by what we wrote, too – no matter what kind of reaction our books would cause.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The wrong way to find an agent

While browsing through job ads on a popular ad site (which I won’t name here but you can guess what it is by this clue: It’s one word that starts with a “C”), I came across an ad from someone who was searching for a literary agent. This being the first time I have ever seen someone post an ad for a lit agent on this site, I was intrigued. I wanted to know what the ad said. So I clicked on it and started reading.

We all know that this kind of thing is really a shot in the dark. Literary agents just don’t have the time to hunt for writers/authors posting ads for them on non-agent-related sites. Sure, they may check out QueryTracker or AgentQuery, but they really don’t have the time to seek out more clients. They are busy enough with the clients they already have. Also, they’re attending meetings, negotiating deals and reading, reading, reading.

Also, an agent usually does not seek clients; the writers contact them. They use a query letter or proposal to make contact with literary agents. Another way a writer gets in touch with agents is by meeting them at conventions, workshops and retreats. They don’t contact you; you contact them. Very rarely it happens that an agent will hear good things about an aspiring author’s work or see astronimical sales numbers on a self-published book, then go through the motions of seeking out that author. However, this is not common. It’s better to go with a query letter.

All that said, there were certain items in the ad which I must comment on here:

Experienced/reputable agent required….

Just a note that a reputable and/or experienced literary agent usually doesn’t scour popular ad sites looking for clients. It’s usually the scammers who do.

Also, "required"?

“…to take a potential best seller….”

Potential? Aw, nuts. Why not an actual best seller? Seriously, though. Who is the judge of whether or not your book is going to be a best seller? It’s not a good idea to say to an agent, “My book is going to be a best seller!” Because, really, says who?

“…self-published book…”

It’s already published? Then what do you need the agent for? If you think your self-published book is going to be picked up by an agent to land a contract with a traditional publisher willing to pay big bucks for it thanks to an ad, it’s time to come back down to earth. Yes, self-published books landing big contracts with reputable publishers has happened, but only after the book has sold hundreds or even thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of copies. And after it has gained media recognition. Everybody’s talking about it! Everybody’s reading it! That’s when the magic happens. And only then, it’s the agent who contacts the author, not the other way around.

The ad goes on to request that only “reputable” agents need apply – er, get in line – er, respond to the ad, and not self-publishing companies.

Well, good luck with that. Posting something like this on a site that is not about literary agents and, therefore, not even scanned by literary agents hungry for new clients (let alone reputable agents) only sets the author up for being contacted by the less-reputable ilk.

As a side note, I would strongly recommend the ad writer learn how to put together a query letter or proposal for their book. That is what gets an agent's attention. It is also what tells us what kind of book it is (fiction? Nonfiction?) and what it's about. These things were lacking in the ad, and if the writer is serious about signing with an agent, it's a good idea to include those things -- in a query letter.

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