What Agents, Editors Want

“Do your research.” That is the primary advice from Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency, who spoke on “Pitching” at the recent WWW conference in San Antonio. In other words, don’t send sci-fi to an agent or publisher who specializes in mysteries or romance.

“Complete your novel before you pitch it.” (This advice is for fiction, not for non-fiction, where a proposal is often requested before the work is completed.) A complete, polished novel ensures a timely response. If you pitch a book that is only partially written and the agent asks to see the whole manuscript, then you’re in an embarrassing situation of admitting it’s not finished. And if it takes another year to finish, the agent or editor most likely will not even remember it and may not be interested any more.

Brief is best. Boil your pitch down to one paragraph of three to four sentences. Practice your “elevator pitch” or “logline” for when you meet an agent or editor at a conference. This is one sentence on what your book is about, the essence of the story. For example, Farris says the logline of To Kill a Mockingbird is “A Southern lawyer defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.” It’s that simple. You can then follow it up with a three or four-sentence synopsis, if asked.

“Be Professional.” It’s a business meeting, Farris says, so sit or stand up straight and make eye contact. Don’t read your notes. Show confidence, but not arrogance. “Think of it as your work getting dressed up and going to a job interview.”

“Keep the three-act concept in mind.” To put it simply, Farris explains, start with the set-up, the story problem (your character is up a tree). Follow with complications (throw rocks at your character in the tree), and finish with the resolution (get character out of the tree).

Mention how many words your book is. Most agents and publishers now are looking for books under 100,000 words, usually around 80,000.

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Women Writing the West

I just returned, on a grand high, from the annual WWW conference, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. Writing conferences are an excellent way to connect with fellow scribes–to network, to share, to learn, and to commiserate about the writing/publishing life.

I have made so many good friends through this group, not to mention meeting agents, editors, film-makers, and I made my connection to my publisher through WWW. Workshops give new information or reinforce ideas lurking in the back of one’s head. Speakers provide inspiration–“You can do it too!” And WWW is one of the most supportive, enthusiastic and caring groups I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Books. Ah, books. There is so much truth to the saying, “So many books, so little time.” We always have a bookstore with members’ books for sale, and every year I have to rein myself in. I want to buy one of each. Next year mine, Cowgirl Dreams, will be there!

Women Writing the West was birthed in the early 1990s by Jerrie Hurd and Sybil Downing at an organizational meeting of the Women of the West Museum. It has since grown to more than 300 members and conducts a renowned writing contest, the WILLA Literary Awards, named for Willa Cather.

It is open to women and men writing about the west or in the west, and includes well-known western and historical authors, such as  Sandra Dallas, Molly Gloss, Louise Erdrich. and Jane Kirkpatrick.

A Mending at the Edge

BOOK REVIEW: A Mending at the Edge by Jane Kirkpatrick

“Of all the things I left in Willapa, hope is what I missed the most.”

In the third of the “Change and Cherish” series, Jane Kirkpatrick continues the story based on Emma Wagner Giesy, the only woman sent to the Oregon Territory in the 1850s to help found a communal society.

Emma and her three children escape an abusive marriage and move from their homestead in Willapa to find safety in Aurora Mills, Oregon. Aurora was part of a utopian religious community that moved initially from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory.

She has had great tragedy in her life, her heart has been broken, and hope seems out of her reach. And new troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. But Emma’s spirit is strong and she longs to make sense of her tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life, and a constant renewing of her faith.

Through her quilting gatherings, Emma begins to weave and God sends the thread to mend relationships, like the frayed edges of cloth. When a child in the community dies, she tells her children to picture heaven as “a place where young girls quilt, all day long … and she never has to take any stitches out …” Death reminds her of the loss of her first beloved husband, and she decides it is “the mark of our character, how we let others be the patch in our lives when we felt most torn apart.”

Emma has sehnsucht, a German term that means a deep longing, a passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged. She eventually realizes that her continued seeking and questioning has been an important part of her faith journey. “It couldn’t be wise to become so certain of how God worked in the world that we stopped seeing evidence of divine surprise.”

Her eventual acceptance of Aurora and its communal life is exemplified by her sister Kitty, “… We all live in this place together, this Aurora, and that has the same … I don’t know, comfort, I guess. People know one another and care about one another even if there are skirmishes now and then. There always are in families.”

And that sense of family is what restores Emma’s hope and her strength in self. When her son thanks and compliments her on an appliquéd picture of her children, she concludes, “What more could any mother wish for? What more could any woman want?”

Jane Kirkpatrick says, “As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 21st century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process. Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world. Fiction is really made up of change, causation, conversation, conflict and characters. It’s the weaving together of those qualities along with landscapes, relationships, spirituality and work that creates the turmoil. Just as in our lives!”

Jane’s writing is a delight to read, a patchwork quilt rich with metaphors, as she tells Emma’s story of obstacles, loss, and conflict to find personal growth and satisfaction in giving and serving others. A Mending at the Edge is a wonderful conclusion to a woman’s story of strength and perseverance.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning author of 14 historical novels, two non-fiction books, as well as numerous articles. Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft, a non-fiction book of interest to women’s studies, historians, quilters and craftsman will be out in December.

A Mending at the Edge is available at www.waterbrookpress.com or www.amazon.com

ISBN 978-0-7394-9545-2.

Heidi M. Thomas has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is the author of a soon-to-be published novel, Cowgirl Dreams. She teaches memoir and beginning fiction writing and does freelance editing for fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of CWGI, Women Writing the West, and Skagit Valley Writers League.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Old Homestead

A recent blog article by Gayle Gresham about “place” and photos of her ancestor’s land reminded me of my own similar trek. In 1999, I made a trip to Cut Bank and Sunburst, Montana to do research for my book, Cowgirl Dreams.

I wanted to locate the first ranch where my grandparents had lived when they were married in 1923. The only thing I knew was that it was the “old Davis Place under the rims” near Sunburst. I really didn’t think I would be able to find it with that vague bit of information. I started at the courthouse in Cut Bank, the county seat. Everyone knew where “the rims” were, but the younger clerks didn’t know this particular ranch, of course. Someone remembered an “old timer” who had worked in records years ago. I called and the gentleman said he remembered it was a few miles west of Sunburst.

Before I left town, I stopped to visit the Marias Museum and told the curator what I was doing. She gave me the phone number of someone who might be able to help: Margie (nee Johannsen) and Jim Leary. The name Johannsen rang a bell with me, because my father told about boarding with that family during his high school years. A visit with them revealed many memories and a contact with Wanda Scarborough, my dad’s cousin. After more reminiscing, Wanda told me the place I was looking for was now owned by the Simms family and gave me directions. The Simmses were gracious enough to let me drive through their ranch to the location. “Just drive about a mile and a half and look for a grove of cottonwood trees.”

Imagine my surprise and awe to find the house still standing, although in bad repair, and being used as a cattle shelter. I spent about an hour there, taking pictures and imagining what the newlyweds must have felt like, living in this beautiful place “under the rims.” This is the backdrop for Cowgirl Dreams, where the dreams began.

Published in: on October 11, 2008 at 1:47 am  Comments (4)  
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Author Interview: Larry Partridge

Today, I’m talking with Larry Partridge, retired pilot and author of just-released novel, Kindred Spirits, a story of “magical realism.” In this book, an American pilot flying relief missions into war-torn Cambodia deliberately crashes his airplane to avoid hitting a group of orphaned children. To his shock, he discovers he can see, hear and experience what’s happening around him, but-he’s dead. An Apsara, a Buddhist guardian angel, rewards the pilot by saving his spirit. He may become mortal again when he wishes, but cannot return to family or friends. This is story of adventure, intrigue, and love.

Larry, this novel is based somewhat on your own experiences flying relief missions into Cambodia during the mid-70s. You’ve published your memoir of this time in Flying Tigers Over Cambodia. What inspired you to write this novel?

One evening in Saigon, over a cold one, a fellow ricelift pilot asked me what my closest call had been so far. I said on March 11th, during take-off, a 105mm artillery round hit the runway 100 yards ahead of us. He said 100 yards was not close at all … he and his crew had seen several while at the ramp less than 50 yards away. I took a sip of my cold Tiger beer, then explained we were traveling at 120 miles per hour. Translate speed into time and you have a miss of two seconds. If we had started our take-off just two seconds earlier?  He admitted … that was close, very close.

How did you learn about the mythology of the Apsara?

Later on, another pilot who was literate in the religious beliefs of Southeast Asians, told me about Buddhist deities called Apsaras who guided the spirits of heroes who had fallen while protecting the innocent. My close call was still very much on my mind. The innocents were a group of war orphans who lived off the end of the airport runway.  If we had taken the hit and had tried to abort the take-off, we would have run right through the area occupied by the orphans. My novel grew from those seeds.

Is your hero, Pete Peterson, based on you?

Yes, has to be. I think in fiction the writer only knows what he or she would do when exposed to an extreme situation.

Have you always been interested in writing? How did you get started?

I finally got an A in high school English. The grade and admiration I received from classmates, especially the young ladies, felt pretty good. I took up writing for the school newspaper (even printed it myself in shop) and later wrote some stuff for the Air Force when I did a tour there. Since then, I have written columns for magazines, mostly aviation related and collected a bit of cash for that.

There’s an interesting story to your cover image. Will you share that with us?

My youngest son has studied graphic arts and agreed to do the cover designs for my novel. He was searching for images of airplane accidents when he saw a photo on the front page of The London Times. It was spectacular but he would have rejected it as it was not the same type of airplane in my story. However, when he glanced at an ad beside the photo he saw it was a dating service called “Kindred Spirits.” We had to use that. An added bonus was the fact that though the airplane was totally destroyed by fire, all aboard escaped with no injuries. This fact meant we could use it with only the photographer’s permission. There were no family members to be offended or hurt.

Tell us why you decided to do Print-on-Demand publishing with Amazon’s program.

Booksurge looked good but I decided to try “Create Space.” CS was difficult because I had to learn how to publish a book as I went along.  My only investment was paying for three book proofs.  It is a print-on-demand service run by Amazon.  I keep all rights to my work and the royalties are excellent.

Do you have advice for others who might want to pursue that route?

It is not easy, or at least it wasn’t for me. I have two capable editors who were paid, but I had several moments where I wondered if I could put together something that looked halfway professional. I think it worked okay. There are still a couple or three errors that I missed but I don’t think I have ever read a book written by anybody that haven’t had at least a few.

When did you develop your interest in flying?

Probably a couple of months before I was born.  My mother was a private pilot and Secretary/Treasurer of the Felts Field Flying club in Spokane, Washington.  She blamed me for grounding her when the combination of morning sickness and exhaust gases in the open cockpit became too much. My father was not medically fit for the Army Air Force in WWII but was a civilian maintenance test pilot at a depot just west of Spokane.  I had three uncles who flew during that war. One was shot down over Germany and spent over a year in a Stalag. I spent a lot of time around airplanes and started official flying lessons when I was fourteen years old.  Paper route money got me a half-hour of flying a month. A stint in the USAF as a navigator, then flying charters for the then new Kenmore Air Harbor. Alaska bush pilot was next, then Alaska Airlines. Then, during a lay off at Alaska, I was in flight test at Boeing. Flying Tigers (airline) took me in and 22 years later, I retired.  A very good life.

How did you get involved in the Cambodian relief project?

We were on a scheduled run from Manila, in the Philippines, to Bangkok with a stop in Saigon, South Vietnam.  At Saigon, we were told that there was a DC-8 loaded with 96,000 lbs of rice there, but the crew scheduled to fly that airplane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was stuck in Anchorage, Alaska because of weather problems. Could we leave this flight for the other crew and fly the rice to Cambodia early the next morning?  The next words made it impossible to refuse … our agent told us there were literally thousands of people starving to death. There were rumors of cannibalism. Some were eating freshly killed victims of the war there. We went to the hotel in Saigon then, after a short sleep rose at five in the morning to fly our first load of rice to Phnom Penh.

How many missions did you fly?

Fifty-two.

What are the rest of your crew doing these days?

They’re not. Two committed suicide and the other died of complications from emphysema.  Heavy smoker. I wondered in my book about the operation if we had done any good. I received a very nice letter from a gentleman named Sody Li, Director of The Cambodian Institute at UCLA. He stated our efforts had saved several thousand from starvation and allowed them to escape to Thailand. Too bad this news was so late in coming. I think my two friends would have not taken their lives after hearing that.

You’re still an active pilot. What kind of planes do you fly?

A couple of Cessna light aircraft and occasionally a really neat turboprop … very fast.

You’ve had a fascinating life, Larry. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Kindred Spirits and Flying Tigers Over Cambodia are both available on Amazon.com

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 4:12 am  Comments (2)  
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