Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Ken Rodgers - poet, teacher, writer, filmmaker, and friend - dropped this week's feature essay into my email inbox over the weekend and I have had a hard time holding off posting it, trying in vain to wait for the regular Wednesday post date. But, it's just too good to wait any longer and Tuesday night seems close enough anyhow. In his essay, Ken tells just one of a multitude of stories that make up the many different facets of his life, which you can glimpse at kennethrodgers.com. For now, though, please enjoy "a hell of a story" from Ken Rodgers here at All 'LIT' UP. ~ J. Goertel

Ken Rodgers lives and writes in Boise, Idaho. His short stories and poems have appeared in a number of venues. He writes two blogs and is in the middle of creating, along with his wife, Betty, a feature length documentary film about his company of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh. See more about the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor at www.bravotheproject.com. You can find out more about Ken at www.kennethrodgers.com.

A Hell of a Story
by Ken Rodgers

I moved from one porthole to the other checking out the rough terrain as the big chopper ferried me and a bunch of body bags from Khe Sanh to Dong Ha. The chopper crew chief barked at me again and again to sit down, but I knew what happened to men who sat down in air ships. Bullets from the ground ripped through the hulls and shattered bones, blasted livers, heart, kidneys. I hot-footed here, then there, moved again and again, my heart on overdrive.

When we finally landed at Dong Ha, I exited the rear of the helicopter and stared back at Khe Sanh. After seventy-two days under siege there, I shook my head and thought, now that's one hell of a story.

In Dong Ha, and then Phu Bai, and then Danang and on to Okinawa, that thought rode me. A hell of a story. And after landing in Tucson and being picked up by my parents and my best friend and his fiancé, I couldn't wait to start telling my tale.

We went to a Mexican food restaurant and after I ordered tacos and a beer, I began to describe the raw, red-flesh metaphors of my war. As I jabbered and jumped up and gestured with my hands, I looked at them all sitting around the table digging into their green chili enchiladas and beef and bean burritos. They wouldn't look at me, or maybe they couldn't look at me.

At the time, I thought, they don't want to hear this. I remember asking myself what I'd done wrong, what we'd done wrong in Khe Sanh. Today I know that the problem wasn't me, or the war; the problem was that they couldn't understand.

Looking at my father's balding pate and my mother's fake strawberry blond hair as mariachi music played in the background, thinking what I knew about the absolute savagery that we all...we all...are capable of, and to have them not respond settled on my shoulders like a heavy coat of chain mail Norman warriors wore a thousand years before.

They don't care, I thought.

I recall going to a party in late 1968 in San Diego with a couple of Marine buddies. The party was mostly young people not associated with the military. On the way there, one of my Jarhead pals said, "Don't talk about the war, it bums people out." But I didn't pay any attention to him and marched into the crowded, smoky place with Hendrix' rendition of "All Along the Watch Tower," and the Stones screaming "Street Fighting Man," and the cheap red wine and the wide bell-bottomed trousers of the long-haired men and women, me yanking on tie-dyed sleeves begging people to listen to me about what I saw...What I Saw. But they were more interested in sex and getting loaded and talking about stopping the war and politics and sex and getting loaded.

I started keeping my story to myself. Even among my Marine Corps comrades, I kept my memories close. Once I walked into the admin office at the Marine Barracks at 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego and saw a man who lived in the same bunker with me for two months during the siege. He looked at me, I looked at him and said, "Hello, Horne," and he said, "Hello, Rodgers," and for the next year we never said a word to each other about our common experience. I haven't seen him since.

During one fifteen-year period in the seventies and eighties, I was repeatedly told by World War II veterans things like, "You guys couldn't fight your way out of a wet paper bag." Or, "You lost the only war we've ever lost." I knew, in my war, we hadn't lost anything but our youth and in some cases limbs and lives, but how could I tell someone that? I didn't know how. The verbal spankings from a generation of warriors that I so admired for what they had accomplished at Guadalcanal and Tarawa and Iwo burned like flashes of gunpowder.

The way a story gets recorded creates the way a story is perceived. Could I tell the story so it truthfully rendered the way I remembered it? Right then, I didn't think so, so I told myself, "Shut your trap." Yet though I made both conscious and unconscious decisions to keep the story mum, my story of my war was stuffed back in my throat like a grenade and it wanted out. It wanted to explode and blow reticence to smithereens.

In the nineties I took up creative writing. First came poetry, then I wrote a novel about my war, a novel that still sits in my desk drawer, incomplete. I composed short stories and essays, some of which were published, but none of it seemed right. The story seemed unfinished, its complexities left undiscovered.

In 2009, my wife Betty and I attended a reunion of Khe Sanh Veterans in Denver and a lot of men from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines—my company of Marines—attended. We sat around trading war stories, many of which I had never heard; bloody sandbags and severed limbs, defying enemy fire to carry a wounded Marine to safety , pranks around the bunkers and fighting holes, dead bodies scattered in the enemy trenches.

Betty and I discussed what we were hearing. Though the stories of war are as old as humanity, every story we heard seemed unique in such a way that you could read the memories, the experiences on each man's face. It made my heart thump and my imagination dredged up scenes of red mud, and M-16 rifles, the constant incoming that drove us all facedown into our trenches for hours, for entire nights. Each rendering of experience was unique in the way each man had responded by living the years during and between the events of the siege and the telling around those tables in Denver some forty-one years later.

While I was shooting the breeze with my old comrades, Betty went to our Skipper, the man who led Bravo Company during the siege, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Pipes USMC Retired, and asked him if anyone had ever told the story. When he said, "No," she asked him if we could tell it, and he gave his stamp of approval.

On the way home from Denver, Betty advised me we should make a documentary film about Bravo Company. I suspect I laughed at that. A film. I barely operate a point-and-shoot camera, but yet, the notion fetched me, and we talked and planned and dreamed and started writing synopses and treatments. If we knew what we know now, we probably wouldn't have taken on this monumental task. But what we didn't know might have been the draw, too. The unknown, the adventure of new craft, new medium, a new vehicle to tell the story that I knew needed telling since that day in Dong Ha when I looked back at the Annamite Mountains in April 1968. A hell of a story.

The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation gave us a start-up grant which was basically enough money for us to, figuratively speaking, hang ourselves, but “onward” was our motto. During 2010 we travelled from Idaho to San Antonio, Texas, back to Idaho, then on to Washington, DC, back to Idaho. We traveled by car and plane. We interviewed 15 survivors of the siege. We spent three weeks in the National Archives and at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia researching, looking for old film, photos, audio recordings, all from the winter and early spring of 1968, all from Khe Sanh. We hired a local Idaho camera operator named Mark Spear and flew him to San Antonio. We filmed interviews ourselves, we hired professionals to film interviews on our road trip. As we drove from Indiana to Springfield, Illinois, Brian Crowdson agreed to work for us for a day. In Omaha, Nebraska, Jesse Hassler shot our session. Meanwhile, the guys in the film were sending photos of themselves, of the combat base; they were sending old audio tapes actually recorded during the siege in 1968.

We had a lot of fabulous volunteer help with fundraising, with promotion. Family and friends, believers in our project, believers in us, chipped in to help fund the making of the film.

A Vietnam veteran with forty years experience in film, John Nutt, contacted Betty and me and offered to edit Bravo! He took our raw material and created art out of war and mayhem. George Lucas' Skywalker Sound graciously let us mix the film at their Marin County facility. Four-time Oscar winner Mark Berger orchestrated the final sound mix.

The movie captures history, it is a study in PTSD and psychology, it is a memoir of war, it is poetic, like rhythmic verse. It speaks on multiple levels in multiple voices. It is funny, sad, loud and profound.

And here we are in film festival mode on the brink of distribution.

The story of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines has now been told. The experience and the future make a heady present, as if one is leaping off of a bridge, hoping that when he hits bottom, he eases into the depths of happiness. It's a hell of a story. But there are no guarantees. So we soldier on. Or better yet, we Marine on.

The trailer for Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor can be viewed here.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Jonathan Evison, author of 'West of Here', is this year's PNBA Award Winner. I happened upon his essay acknowledging the award and was so blown away by the pathos he captured that I contacted him to see if I could republish it for ALL 'LIT' UP. The essay originally appeared on the NORTHWEST Book Lovers website. If you're going into this weekend feeling at all frustrated by the writing life, reading Jonathan's essay should put things in perspective. Consider it a thoroughly enjoyable attitude adjustment. Enjoy - J. Goertel

Jonathan Evison
author, West of Here
2012 PNBA Award Winner

Why We Endure

Over a twenty year period spanning my 20s and 30s, during which I cobbled together a living variously hacking up roadkill, slinging spaghetti, checking water meters, tending bar, washing dishes, working car lots, telemarketing sunglasses, and making an ass of myself on FM radio, I wrote seven unpublished novels. It’s what I did. I wrote unpublished novels. It defined me. I was not a roadkill hacker-upper, nor a spaghetti-slinger, nor a professional ass. I was a prolific author of unpublished fiction. And I was neither bitter nor particularly discouraged by this state of affairs. To write novels at all is to live the dream.

I buried three of my darlings in a trailer court that shall forever remain anonymous, and reveled in the act. I wall-papered my bathroom with form rejections. I dropped out of college, avoided career paths, essentially left myself no opportunity but to write novels—published or unpublished.

In my early 30s, hard at work on one of my beauties, I was employed at an ice cream stand, scribbling furious notes about my protagonist’s moral dilemma instead of making waffle cone batter, when the proprietor, my friend Paul, was forced to fire me. It was a relief, actually. I had a novel to finish. Eight years later, still unpublished, still broke, I was half-heartedly digging ditches in a rich lady’s yard, my mind steadily at work on my latest soon-to-be-unpublished novel, when the gardener who employed me, also a friend, was forced to let me go. My devotion to writing novels probably cost me my first marriage. It prevented me from being a homeowner, from having insurance, from being a father, from ever owning a reliable car. I was forced to wonder whether I was a disappointment to my family, whether I was a failure as an artist. As a middle-aged man I was forced to ask hundreds of sweaty and impatient tourists whether they wanted chocolate jimmies on their froyo. Why did I do it?

Surely, I don’t need to tell a bookseller that it’s not about the money, or the accolades, or the home-owning, or the insurance. But all of this still begs the question: Why do we persist with so little reason to hope? Why do we endure all the heartache and frustration, the financial duress and the existential discomfort that comprises devoting our lives to the written word—writing it, publishing it, or selling it?

And the answer is that the acts of writing and reading themselves, the practice of mining our intellectual and emotional resources, of taxing our brains and our souls, of pushing ourselves into new and uncomfortable places, of forcing ourselves to inhabit characters and endure their lots, makes us more expansive people, more understanding, thoughtful, empathetic people. Better problem solvers, better wives and husbands, better dads, and better friends. This is why we write books, and this is why we read them. Because they edify, they inform, they open the door to empathy.

Reading is, at its best, not an escape; it is genuine experience. A novel is not a monologue, but a conversation, a collaboration between writer and reader, an invaluable exchange of human conditions.

This is where you come in, indie bookseller. Thank you for your enduring energy and belief in the written word against all financial and cultural odds, for forging that priceless connection between reader and writer, one book at a time. For championing underdogs, and preaching your pets, and yes, for selling us your guilty pleasures, too. Thank you for the benefit of your good taste and expertise. And thank you most of all for making that connection human and personal, as it should be—as no search engine could ever make it.

I’m honored that you have made my West of Here one of your pets, and that you have taken it upon yourselves to build me a readership one book at a time, so that my stories may flourish in the imaginations of others instead of in a hole in my backyard. Thank you for affording me health insurance, cozy socks and keeping my refrigerator well-stocked for the first time in my life. My family thanks you. I look forward to meeting and reconnecting with you along this tour and the next and the next, so that I may thank you in person, and continue to thank you in person, for all your energy and support in making my dreams come true.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I have always felt that writing and music are and have always been kindred languages. Writing is about creating a rhythm for the reader. My favorite novels share the same shelf space with my favorite records and that's no coincidence. When I saw that Anne Leigh Parrish's essay mentioned piano playing, Chopin, and rhythm, I knew I had tapped a kindred spirit for this week's Author Essay Feature. Enjoy - J. Goertel

Anne Leigh Parrish’s story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, was published in September 2011 by Press 53. More of her work may be found in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, American Short Fiction, The Pinch, Eclectica Magazine, PANK, Bluestem, Storyglossia, Knee-Jerk, and r.kv.r.y., among other publications. To learn more, visit her website at www.anneleighparrish.com.

A Writer's Life
by Anne Leigh Parrish

It began as a love of poetry, and the beauty of language itself. As a child I was exposed to the best of the nineteenth century poets, because that was my father's field. While Wordsworth was his focus, he drew my attention to Emily Dickinson, thinking I might find her a bit more accessible. The mind is wider than the sky, she said. I agreed.

I also loved classical music. On the piano I learned to play Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin. The latter two had a particular influence on how I saw first a sentence, then a paragraph, then a sequence of scenes. There was an inherent rhythm in words, and to find it you had to write as much with your ear as with your heart.

And so my early attempts were lyrical, to be sure, but otherwise flat. In retrospect, they had an airless quality, like being in a completely closed room. Language is supposed to give us the world, not shut it out. I was doing something wrong.

I moved from language to characters. I became obsessed with the logic of psychology and motivation. People had to make sense, even when they behaved irrationally or in desperation. You had to be able to line them up and know what they were going to do next. The trouble was one of predictability. My readers often said they could see the ending a mile away. I added an element of surprise, something impossible to foresee. What I was told then was that resolutions that appear suddenly, out of the blue, are just as bad.

During the long, dark period that followed my first publication – and make no mistake, I was completely thrilled, but frustrated that success did not soon repeat itself – I tried to look on the bright side of being a writer. I compared myself to other artists. Pity the frustrated actress, I thought, who needs a stage, a director, and an audience to find her bliss. Or singers, dancers, even painters had it worse because they needed a large space in which to work. Writers need a table, a pad of paper, and a pen. My world, by comparison, seemed small and very easy to contain. I admit that this notion comforted me, as I struggled on.

Then it came, my revelation. I needed to focus not on rhythm, or psychology, or surprise endings, but on story. On what precedes and what follows the moment when the reader's understanding changes. I won't say this was easy, but it was a clear goal, and one I pushed myself relentlessly towards.

As I published and won awards, my emphasis continued to evolve. I addressed women's issues – motherhood, in particular, and also physical abuse. How do people get themselves out of bad situations, I wondered. What stories do they need to tell themselves to find freedom?

Most recently I've turned to narrative voice, bringing the inner lives of two characters into the same time and place, if only for a moment, then sending them on their separate paths once more. This requires an omniscient perspective, obviously. I don't see a lot of writers using this vantage point these days, which intrigues me. I like being able to drop down in the mind of any character. I think it makes for a richer story.

I don't know what's going to grab me and pull me to the next phase or milestone, only that I owe my readers what I always have – to lift them off from reality, and startle them into recognition.

Anne Leigh Parrish's story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, is available here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Next week, Ken Rodgers - author, poet, teacher, filmmaker - will stop by the blog with something specifically written for ALL 'LIT' UP, but I couldn't miss the opportunity presented today to help him and his wife, Betty Rodgers, plug their amazing documentary film, BRAVO! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. I stumbled on Ken's post at the Bravo! The Project blog. Today, January 21, 2012, is the forty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh, which is the subject matter of their heartfelt documentary. Check out Ken's post for the anniversary here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Author Essays, Two Home Runs

Thanks to authors Myfanwy Collins and Tamara Linse for knocking it out of the park with their respective essays for ALL 'LIT' UP. Last week, Myfanwy's 'Will It? offered some personal and honest words on the subject of rejection and acceptance in the publishing business. This week, Tamara Linse's two-part, full-on reflection 'How I Got My Dream Agent' serves up an A to Z on a subject near and dear to both established and novice writers alike. Enjoy. Comment. Share.


Tamara Linse lives in Wyoming, where she writes short stories and novels. To support her writing habit, she also edits, freelances, and occasionally teaches. Her new novel is about love, loss, triumph, and socks. Well, not socks exactly. Her website is www.tamaralinse.com.

How I Got My Dream Agent, Part 1

I am so honored to have the lovely Rachel Stout (http://www.dystel.com/staff-e-mail/) at Goderich Literary Management (http://www.dystel.com/) as my agent. Getting here has been a long and winding road, full of long-dark-teatime-of-the-soul moments. But if you know anything about publishing or are a writer yourself, you knew that already.

So, because it’s so long, I've broken down into two parts. In part 1, I’ll tell the story of how it happened, and in part 2 I’ll try to pinpoint the things that made a difference in my search. So, without further delay...

Once upon a time, way back in 1999, I started writing my first novel. It was the summer between graduating with my undergraduate in English and starting grad school. After timidly taking my first writer’s workshop, I had convinced myself that maybe, just maybe, I had it in me to write one.

This first novel, Earth’s Imagined Corners, is women’s fiction set in 1885 Iowa and Kansas. It’s the story of Sara, whose father tries to marry her off to his younger partner ~ a grasping and coercive man ~ only she elopes with a kind man, James, whom she just met and who, though she doesn’t know it, just got out of prison. It’s based on the lives of my great grandparents. We’ll call this Novel #1.

It took me six years, until 2005, to write this first draft. I would write furiously for two weeks, a month, and then life would get in the way or I’d come to a hard part. Then I’d put it aside. Once I had a complete draft, I got some friends to read it, and then I revised and revised until I didn’t know what else to do.

I crafted a query and started sending Novel #1 out in November of 2005. In a testament to optimism over stark reality, I sent it out to almost a 130 agents, plus about 20 small presses, with minimal response. By minimal, I mean only one request for a full and maybe a couple of requests for partials. I know now that my query letter wasn’t that good and that the first pages of the novel had red flags ~ switches in points of view, boring scenes, an unlikable character, and other things. One very kind agent in Canada requested a full and wanted to take me on, but her partners didn’t agree. She asked for an exclusive too ~ so long months of waiting. I finally gave up on this book in 2007, but you’ll be happy to know later in this narrative its gets retrieved from the bowels to which it was banished.

In the meantime, I’d moved on with writing. I’d also been writing short stories, which really really helped me with craft. Then, in August of 2005 I started a second novel, the one that got me signed with the agency. It’s called Deep Down Things. Set in present-day Loveland, Colorado, it’s about a naive young woman Maggie who falls in love with an idealistic writer named Jackdaw. She helps him write a book, and they get pregnant and then get married. However, because Jackdaw is so idealistic, he doesn’t respect her because of it. Then they have a baby boy named Jes who has spina bifida, a severe birth defect. Maggie tries to save her marriage and her baby. It was inspired by something a friend went through. Let’s call this Novel #2.

I finished the first draft in March of 2007, so a year and a half. I had a great deadline ~ I wanted to do a mentorship on it at the Tin House Writers Conference, so a lot of it was written in the early months of 2007. I don’t know how but I landed a great mentorship there with an editor at a big New York publishing house. She was so kind. I have to say, at that time, the manuscript was in sort of a mess ~ first person in four points of view and also two different time frames going concurrently ~ but she pointed out what was working on a large scale and on a small scale and what could be changed. “Do more of this ~ characters not just in the moment but also reflecting on what it means,” she said. “Even though you’re in first person, it has to be a little more toward third person. Less asides.”

I wrote and revised. I kept the four points of view but made the narrative linear. I made sure each of the characters had his or her own arc and distinct voice. Because of my initial structure, I had the beginning and the end written but not the middle. I took the book to a couple of more conferences and got more advice. I revised. I made connections with editors and agents and writers. I went to the Algonkian Writers Conference (http://algonkianconferences.com/), which is all about figuring out publishing from an agent’s and editor’s point of view and looking professional and honing your pitch. Heck, it’s about basic things, too, like making sure you know what genre you’re in and you’re sticking to those conventions. Michael, who leads that conference, gave the name of a kick-ass freelance editor who used to be an in-house editor, and she went through the novel again and gave me the full editorial treatment. I urged her not to spare my feelings ~ tell me what’s working and what’s not. She did such a great job, and I paid her a lot of money but not as much as she deserved. (Many things in this process, like conferences, cost a lot of money.) I revised and revised, including changing the title (it was called Loveland) and the ending.

In March of 2009, I started sending my query out to agents. I started with top agents and agents who represented things similar to what I write. I immediately got requests for partials and for fulls, but then they all came back with “You write really well, but fiction is a tough market right now.” I received invitations to submit my next project. I kept submitting, ten to twenty agents at a time, every month or two. I kept my ear to the ground and submitted to newly established agents and agencies. I also followed the great advice of submitting to new agents at established agencies ~ I have a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, so I scanned that every day and collected names and submitted to them.

One of those new agents was an agent at Dystel & Goderich. I submitted to the agent on January 8, 2010. She requested a full on January 14. Then, the evening of Friday, February 19, I got this fabulous long email from her. I read along and she said all these wonderful things about it and I kept reading, waiting for the “but …” The but never came. She suggested some changes and said she’d love to see it again. Over the weekend, I addressed all her changes and sent it back to her on Monday. As she reviewed it, we exchanged friendly emails about other things, at her initiation. She took another look at the manuscript and then had some other agents take a look, but then on March 25 she rejected it! I had started to become convinced that she was The One, and it was kind of heart-breaking. She was so encouraging and wonderful in her rejection email. But I understood why she had done it ~ as everyone was saying, it’s a hard market for fiction right now, especially literary fiction. I sent her an email saying that I’d much appreciated her enthusiasm and I understood. That was that ~ so I thought.

Then in late May, the agent emailed me to say that she’d come across a story of mine that was recently published and that she really liked my writing. This begins a great series of emails about what we were reading and about cowboys and the West and her being from Australia, once again at her initiation. I really enjoyed our conversations, and of course it was balm to my craven writer soul, but I didn’t really think that anything would come of it. Then, she emailed that she’d been talking to the primary agents in the agency, Jane and Miriam, and they’d read my website and liked my voice. Would I send the full again? Of course I would! Throughout this process, the agent kept me updated with small emails saying they hadn’t forgotten about me. She got back to me when she said she would.

Then, on July 15, the agent emailed me to say that nothing was definite but that they might have some very positive news for me. AACCKKK!! But, you know what, at this point, I really wasn’t believing it. I was so hoping, but I didn’t think it would happen. Then, the agent called and offered representation! I accepted of course, after emailing the other agents who had partials and fulls. I couldn’t have be more thrilled and honored to be part of Dystel & Goderich.

Do you think the story ended there? Nope. It never does. The agent was wonderful, and I went through several rounds of edits with her. Unfortunately, her father was really sick, so she quit the agent business. The agency very graciously kept me on, and I got another agent within the agency. I ended up dropping Deep Down Things (Novel #2) in favor of Earth’s Imagined Corners (Novel #1), which I totally rewrote in the first five months of 2011, keeping only the skeleton plot and tossing all the actual prose. But then, as things happen, this agent moved on to greener pastures. Once again, D&G very graciously kept me on, and now my agent is Rachel Stout. I’m so stoked because she and I have very similar taste in books, and I can’t wait to get her feedback. We chose to stay with Novel #1 instead of switching back, as I think this one is the more commercial of the two. She’ll be getting back to me with edits any day now, and soon hopefully we’ll be submitting to publishers.

And I’m sure the road doesn’t end here. I’m just thankful to be where I am, and I keep putting pen to paper. I’m looking down the road, working on an exciting new project, thankful for all my good fortune and all the great friends I’ve met along the way. Friends like James Goertel. Thanks, James!

How I Got My Dream Agent, Part 2

In Part 2, I wanted to talk about what I feel made the difference in my search for an agent. Many of these are things that people have been saying for ages, but I have also found them to be true. Please take them with a grain of salt ~ these are things that helped me. I hope these help others.

In General

Not one big thing. In my experience, it wasn’t one big thing that got me an agent but, instead, a whole bunch of small things. This means, in practical terms, that we just need to keep trying different things, keep doing research and brainstorming, keep learning, keep putting it out there, keep bouncing back. Boy, do I wish there was just one big thing!

Perseverance. The number one thing, I think, is perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. Sheer pigheadedness. I mean, we're ambitious, right? That's why we're still here. Maybe it’s just my take on the world, but a large portion of my success (in anything) has come from just being there, showing up again and again, keep putting it out there, finding new solutions or work-arounds. I mean, it took me eleven years! And, while getting an agent is a milestone, I know that it’s just another beginning.

Patience. Sort of a corollary to the last item. The publishing industry is notoriously slow. It all takes lots of time. The more ways you can find to make yourself patient, the better. It always helps me to have a number of irons in the fire. That way, when I get rejected, I have other things to look forward to. It’s all part of my Haystack Theory of Publishing(http://tamara-linse.blogspot.com/2010/03/haystack-theory-of-publishing.html). Also, if you’re sending an impatient or angry followup email, that’s not going to help your cause. I believe in following up ~ the squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all ~ but I think we should be on our best behavior when we do. To give you an idea, one of my partials was out sixteen months before I signed with the first agent, and I’d followed up three times.

Follow up on every opportunity. You know how serendipity will hand you something, and you’ll mean to follow up on it. Say your husband’s best friend is married to an agent. Or you start talking to someone in a bar who loves your book idea and says she’ll send it on if you send it to her. Follow up on it, dang it! Don’t let it pass. It never hurts to ask. Let me give you some examples. I recently read that 9 out of 10 authors fail to return their promo questionnaires ~ a huge missed opportunity. I volunteered at an archive that had a notable author in my genre who was a board member and an active researcher. I asked my lovely friends there if they would forward an email to her. I asked my workshop teacher and mentor to recommend me to her agent. I sent queries for my second book to all agents who included personal notes on their rejections to the first book, mentioning that I much appreciated their kind words. Don’t be obnoxious, but be persistent.

Jump into online media and social networking with both feet
. In industry jargon, create a platform. You should create a website and/or a blog ~ NOW, don’t wait until your book is coming out ~ and be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other places. I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons my agency was interested in me. I showed I was capable of being a promo-sapiens. And it’s an ongoing commitment. If you create a blog, you can’t not write for weeks and then announce to the world, “Oh, look, I have another blog post up!” No. You have to blog at least every other day, five days a week. It’s a commitment. Also, keep your website current. Be a good Facebooker (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ru-freeman/facebook-etiquette-for-au_b_398318.html) ~ don’t just talk about yourself. Interact. Comment and promote others and enjoy it.

Making lots of writer and editor friends. AKA networking. But I don’t think of it in those terms. I just love being able to rub antennae with other geeks just like myself. I don’t think of others as competition. I think of them as a great big groups of fun people who I loved to connect with. But, in practical terms, this also pays off for your career.

Go to conferences. This pays off in so many ways. You improve your craft. You make friends. Your spirits go through the roof. And it gives you so many opportunities in the searching for an agent game. You can pitch agents at conferences. Even if you don’t pitch an agent, you can mention in your query letter that you saw them speak at such and such a conference but that you’re sorry you weren’t able to sign up for a pitch appointment with them. If they give a talk, you can mirror back to them what they said. I went to a conference, and the agent talking said he liked Cormac McCarthy and also was looking to take on women’s fiction. Well, I could say that my style is in the vein of Cormac McCarthy and that I write women’s fiction, as he mentioned at the X conference.

Get published in literary magazines. This sounds like an old saw, but it’s true. Not only does it get your name out there and increase your platform online, agents read them. It helped me keep my first agent interested, and I also received an invitation to submit a manuscript to a fabulous big-name agent. I was not able to follow up on this fabulous opportunity, as he requested an exclusive, but it was worth it in ego points alone. Who doesn’t want to hear that someone else liked their stuff?

Get an MFA. I don’t have an MFA, but I have friends who do. It paves the way like nothing else will, especially if you go to a big-name school. In some cases, agents come knocking at your door. I have a friend who went to a top-rated MFA program and then also attended a top conference every year. Without sending out a single query, she had her pick of four or five agents for her short story collection, and this with having only two or three stories published.

Learn about the industry
. Read agent and editor blogs. Listen to agent interviews. Obsess. Do research on AgentQuery.com. Get a subscription to Publishers Lunch at least, if not Publishers Marketplace. Lay awake nights and wonder what you’re doing wrong.

Be polite. Don’t be the difficult person. Be persistent, but be pleasant.

The Manuscript

Revise, revise, revise the manuscript. It needs to be as perfect as you can possibly make it. Resist the urge to send it out immediately upon finishing the first draft. Resist mightily. Find as many ways to polish it as possible. I wrote and revised my first novel for six years. I wrote and revised my second novel for four years. For suggestions to help revising, see the following.

Read craft books. I can’t tell you the number of great things I’ve learned from craft books. Halfway through my first book, I stopped and thought, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Then I read a gazillion craft books. I still read and reread them. It helps.

Get feedback on your writing through friends and critique groups and workshops. Prevail upon your friends. It’s nice to have your family tell you how good it is ~ we all need that ~ but it’s more effective in craft terms if the feedback is from another writer. If you have a critique group, great! Or take a novel workshop. Or take an online workshop. Or go to a conference that has a novel workshop. Get feedback on it as much as possible.

Have a professional freelance book editor give you feedback. Preferably one who has been in the industry. If you’re going to pay good money (as much as $2,500 for a good one) for a book doctor in order to get published, make sure that editor knows about publishing. If you’re just looking to get feedback on craft, that’s great. It’s fine to pay a writer who’s also an editor. But if you’re trying to work toward publication, it makes sense to get an editor who knows about publishing. I plan to use my freelance book editor for all future books (if I can and depending on my finances).

Things in your manuscript that put up a red flag for agents
(http://tamara-linse.blogspot.com/2010/06/signs-of-amateur.html). Every writer goes through a natural progression of learning craft, and there are craft things that mark you as someone starting out. I think you can get away with one or two of these (calling your writing literary, one misspelling), but they add up quickly. Click on link at the beginning of this paragraph for an elaboration.

Sometimes it’s time to move on. Sometimes, you’ve learned everything you can from a book and it’s time to put it away and move on to another one. They say it usually takes two or three or more book manuscripts with multiple revisions each to get an agent. You heard me right. There came a point when it was time for me to move on from my first manuscript. Then I went back and totally reworked it.

The Query Letter

Do a whole bunch of research on writing a great query letter. It is the most exacting genre there is next to the resume. One word will make the difference between getting a request and not. There’s a lot of great blogs and resources out there. Take advantage of it. Read Miss Snark’s query letter Crap-O-Meter (http://snarkives.blogspot.com/2006/02/cover-letter-crap-o-meter-posts-links.html) ~ she commented on something like 99 query letters, talking about what was working and what wasn’t. I’d pay special attention to the ones in your genre.

Revise, revise, revise. When you’re not getting requests for partials and fulls, revise it some more. Still not? Revise some more.

Get feedback on your query, preferably from other people who’ve been trying to query or people in the industry. I went to a whole conference devoted to crafting a query, and I posted mine on an agent blog who was having a contest to give feedback on queries, where mine won a spot and received feedback. I also asked the freelance book editor who went over my manuscript to also go over the query letter.

Some basic stuff. Use her or his name. “Dear Ms. Smith:” Do not mass email to a bunch of agents. Do research on whom you’re sending to. Personalize each query. By that, I mean, read their website and any interview and somehow mention something very specific that they said. Use their wording. Think about it: You’re trying to seduce this person. You’re looking to get a partner for life, much like a marriage partner. Is quantity going to get you into someone’s heart? Nope. Quality. Personalization. Making a connection.

Check your spelling. This seems like a no-brainer, yet agents say that they get queries with lots of misspellings.

Don’t try to be cute or funny. You may feel a connection to an agent because you read their blog, but do not give in to temptation to be funny. Business formal only.

Previous connections. Mention right away if you have a referral, if you had them in workshop, if you went to a conference they spoke at, if they included nice words in their response to a previous submittable, if they are your cousin-in-law.

Follow guidelines. For each and every query, read their guidelines on their website and follow them to a tee. Also, you can get a lot of good information on AgentQuery.com.

Play by the rules. Don’t be that guy who thinks that breaking the rules will get you in. It won’t. It’ll just irritate people.

I’d recommend sending queries out in batches. Maybe ten at a time, every month or two. Aim your query high and low. New agencies and new agents at established agencies are good places to query for new writers. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace and sign up for Publishers Lunch Deluxe and pay attention to the announcements for new agents.

Follow up politely
. Give them the amount of time they state on their website. Or, if they don’t state it, I’d give them three months for a query, four months for a partial, and six months for a full. Repeat (politely) until you get a response. Don’t take it personally.

When is it time to give up?
I don’t know. I think some people would’ve given up way before me. I queried 128 agents on my first manuscript and 62 on my second. Maybe that makes me a slow study. Like I said, pigheadedness is sometimes my greatest asset.

I hope this helps. You can do it, I know you can! And if you have questions, feel free to email me at tamara [at] tamaralinse.com.

Tamara Linse was raised on a ranch in northern Wyoming. She received a master’s in English from the University of Wyoming. Her work has been a finalist for Georgetown Review, Glimmer Train, and Arts & Letters contests, and a book of short stories was a semifinalist for the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize. She has been published in the South Dakota Review, Georgetown Review, Word Riot, and Talking River, among others. She lives in Wyoming, where she is an editor for a foundation and is hard at work on a novel.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Myfanwy Collins lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Quick Fiction, PANK, Caketrain, FRiGG,Potomac Review and other venues. Her novel, ECHOLOCATION, will debut in March 2012. A collection of her short fiction, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND, is also forthcoming from PANK Little Books in August 2012. Please visit her author site for more info: http://www.myfanwycollins.com

Will It?
by Myfanwy Collins

I had spent so many years--20 or more--wondering how I would feel when I got the news that someone was going to publish my first novel that how I actually felt came as a great surprise to me when I did get the good news. On top of feeling elated, validated, grateful, and triumphant, I also felt completely and utterly terrified. Someone had finally said yes to me and my biggest fear was letting them and my long supportive friends and family down. The question turned from “Would anyone ever publish one of my novels?” to “What if everyone who reads my novel hates it and thinks I’m a deviant, horrible wretch of a talentless hack of a human being?”

I had not expected to feel this way, honestly. Not because I think I’m some superstar, but because I’ve been around the block and have been lucky enough to have work published in some wonderful publications. Frankly, I thought I had gotten over my fear of being exposed by my written word.

Sure, there is still a twinge of fear whenever something new of mine is published, particularly when it is published online as then anyone can read it. Mostly, though, I’ve been able to let that fear go. I recognize where it comes from--a fear of being judged by people who know me in my “real” life. Once I recognize it, I can squash it. I’ve even let go the stage fright which came over me and crushed me for years after I read my mother’s eulogy ten years ago. Once I recognized where the fear was coming from, I was able to let it go and once again enjoy being up in front of an audience.

But this book fear is new and unexpected and, frankly, ridiculous and frustrating. I’m beyond excited about my book and so very proud of it. There is nothing to fear. Indeed, a brilliant editor has said yes to my novel and asked to publish it. She loved reading my book. She stayed up all night reading it. She believes in it enough to put her name and her company behind it.

So why the fear?

Let’s dismantle it. Let’s pick away at it. Partly it is the worry of being judged by others; that they will feel I’ve wasted my time by writing the book or their time by them reading it. I fear that something in my book will cause someone to treat my son differently. I fear that no one will buy it or that people will buy it out of pity or that if they do buy it, no one will read it.

Worst of all, I fear that no one will care.

Ah ha. Is that it, then? What if no one cares? So what if no one cares, right? Right?

I mean, if all the years of work and the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rejections I’ve received over the years have not broken me, a lack of caring will not break me.

Will it?


Talking about writing and writing are two very different things. No doubt it's enjoyable to talk about writing. Favorite books, authors, bookstores are easy topics for folks interested in writing. But talk is cheap. Aspiring writers don't have to invest their imaginations or their souls. Within these discussions, though, there are insights into the world of letters that those who desire to write can take away. In shared words and shared stories there is a sense of community waiting. Writing is what it takes to be a writer. There is no way around that fact. Those engaged in this process understand this very well, but they know better than anyone that this is just the beginning. What lies beyond the written pages, the short stories, the novella, the novel is a culture, a business, a lifestyle that could use a little illumination. The stories, essays, and interviews gathered here from and with authors, editors, publishers and booksellers are a peek behind the curtain, a peek that will answer some questions and undoubtedly raise others.

I wrote my debut fiction collection, Carry Each His Burden, a year ago and self-published it six months ago. Since then I have had the the good fortune and guilty pleasure to observe both established and aspiring writers, to hear their stories, gain their insights, and have come to know them, their work, and their journeys. The generosity of spirit within this community has been nothing short of amazing and I am happy to share some of what I have had the privilege to be a part of via this blog.