Friday, December 7, 2012

A Christmas Story

 
 

The Scent of Christmases Past

In the late 1940’s my older sisters and I took a heart-pounding streetcar ride downtown to Loveman’s Department Store windows decked out in lively winter scenes behind glass, cold and slick to my tongue when licking at a giant candy cane sitting inside.

Later, at a nearby nursing home, I cozied up to a real fancy tree, an evergreen with blue and red lights reflecting on spun-glass clouds called “angel hair”, enticing me to pluck at its shiny softness during several carols sung to pale wrinkly folks in rolling chairs. “Hark the Herald Angels sing,” my sisters chorused like angels, and there was an angel’s very hair on the tree begging to be touched, which I did, and itched all night. Really, they might as well have placed attic insulation on branches. Angel hair should be treated as hazardous waste, though this was during an era of lead paint and asbestos siding. In 1949 who knew?

Soon there came a generous man we called Uncle Ed, asking what my sisters and I wanted Santa to bring and promising to deliver our letters right to the North Pole. Upon a study of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, a doctor kit seemed just the ticket for first aid, for by then I’d had a tangle with red wasps and various accidents. Now I cut out the catalogue’s photo to be sure Santa got my point. A doctor kit, I scribbled in my best First Grade block letters. Time passed and Uncle Ed made the delivery for Santa, too. No way could I wait for Christmas Day, so scratched a hole in the wrapping paper. Hot diggity dog! It was a case, though not black like Dr. Fisher’s when he arrived at our home to save my life… again. My heart leapt. Oh, hurry Christmas! The day finally came. I ripped open the present, flipped up the lid. Empty! Just a lame little suitcase, nothing inside.     

Not all Christmases were disappointing though. With schooldays came thoughtful teachers−God love ’em− who made Christmas more fun than Grandma’s cast-off snuff can. We hummed along with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker tunes while cutting out origami snowflakes, practiced weeks for a nighttime school programs, and though I’d been all but passed by when Jesus handed out musical talent, my teacher thrust a triangle into my fist, and I clanged along with a chorus singing “Jingle Bells”. Oh, how Dad’s ’50 Oldsmobile sped driving us home, much too fast, for we whisked by twinkling lights of red, blue and green before my eyes could focus. “Hey! Did ya’ll see the lights?” I yelped from a spot wedged among sisters in the seat-beltless backseat, where each of us clutched a sack full of ribbon candy, rock-hard Brazil nuts and one orange−a gift from a fat man wearing a red suit, and saying, “Ho, ho, ho!” Thrilling stuff, but I saw clear he was my neighbor who sold used cars, Mr. Norris dressed in a Santa suit. In the Fifth Grade, the teacher held two Christmas contests, word games. That day I hopped onto the bus for home grinning and clutching both prizes: a peppermint stick long as my arm, and a chocolate Hersey bar big as a spiral notebook. Bingo! My studying a dictionary for fun had begun paying off.

Today’s fake trees? Pooh! Our Christmas trees were searched for in the woods with Dad’s saw in hand and dragged home by its trunk, so if you’ve never done this you’ve missed out on special things like cedar pricks and sappy fingers. And fresh scent. Most ornaments sprung from our imaginings, and were made anew each Christmas: colorful chains of construction paper, soap powder snow, white paper cut into snowflakes, a star topper of aluminum foil-covered cardboard, red berries and pine cones gathered from the woods, old Christmas cards, breathtaking when I’d stand back and squint.

A couple of my fresh tree memories really stink. On my eighth Christmas we had the usual cedar tree decorated with a sprinkle of gifts underneath. Now famous for peeking, I made no exception this year. Hey! Tearing a hole in mine mattered not, for we came home from school and a thief had skipped off with Dad’s wallet, leaving my mittens thrown out in front of God and everybody, along with a trail of torn wrapping paper and the drooping forlorn tree. You know, the last Christmas tree I harvested from the woods back in the ’70’s had a nest of mice hidden deep inside the scratchy cedar branches. Two generations of tiny rodents unloaded right inside my house, poor babies.

Today’s pre-lit silk trees from China look real nice with my now-dimming vision, but I do miss the smell of fresh cedar. Today evergreen scent spews from candles… made in China. Oh. And Loveman’s Store? It’s boarded up, its torn canopy flapping in the breeze and waving goodbye to Christmases past. The stinky Christmases? They’re all good, for life’s little letdowns build character. –G.H. Sherrer

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Visit with G.H. Sherrer


                                                   The Keeper Chronicles by G.H. Sherrer, a Synopsis
 
In spite of a surprising source of hope found in the kind Miz Alma Washington, a forsaken young girl Starr Bright endures deadly coastal crises only to face her greatest challenge yet. A seedy beach town is traded for luxurious mountain living with her grandparents, though learning of a family legacy plunges her into despair. Is a new friend failing her, too? An amazing Counselor emerges. Now she must put herself in the balance again to catch another criminal. This stirring family saga with a twist of mystery portrays a troubled young girl poised for a good life, a faith inspiring, fresh work of fiction satisfying readers of all ages.

Author Interview:

Why should readers pick up The Keeper Chronicles?

The Keeper Chronicles is written to inspire and entertain readers, provide an “escape” of their own issues into ones likely worse than their own, hopefully making them feel better about themselves. This story uses reality situations, not fantasy. Through the delightful, and sometimes harrowing, adventures of a young girl who sees herself as a detective, the reader cannot help being motivated to see others differently, look for ways to serve fellow mankind. The issues of the protagonist include abandonment, bullying, depression, grief, anger, social class, addictions, suicidal ideation and rejection. The saga reflects consequences of wrong decisions.   

         How did your book come to life?

While living in Phoenix, Arizona in the fall of 2006, I joined a writers’ inspiration group where I wrote a short story. Later returning to Birmingham, Alabama, I shared this story with a local novelist who suggested it might become a novel. Over several years, the story grew as I attended writer workshops and was further inspired, and entered a portion in a competition held by Alabama Writers Conclave, winning an award. 
The story's premise springs from a person in my childhood. During the early 1950’s in rural Birmingham, Alabama, battleground of the Civil Rights Movement, an epic story unfolded so quietly it was almost missed. Who other than Martin Luther King might imagine the impact of one unbiased black man with a loving heart on the lives of future generations? Like King, Matthew James knew the power of God’s love, and sang hymns while he worked as gardener for a nursing home. Nothing in the all-white community went unnoticed by him, not the poor children whose father “went north for work” deserting his family, nor the high-spirited young son of a doctor. When a school day ended, the children ran to Matthew, the bravest jumping aboard his moving tractor, others running behind in the fresh plowed earth. He never seemed annoyed, but would smile and patiently share wisdom, a kind word. He left vegetables at the door of the poor children, and counseled the doctor’s son to get an education, and not waste his talents. The unforgettable Matthew James lived as all those taking Christ’s name should, with a forgiving spirit and loving actions. Matthew touched lives by reflecting a heart in harmony with the true Keeper, the Creator of all mankind of one blood. Though this work is entirely imaginary, Matthew James and America’s 500,000 children who’re abandoned each year supplied inspiration for The Keeper Chronicles  

         Who is you favorite character in your book and why?

The young girl protagonist Starr has my heart completely, but I find myself respecting and adoring her mentor Miz Alma, too. This world could learn much from the elderly woman’s selfless giving, how loving and making a difference in a young life impacts the world in a positive way. 

         How did you name your characters? 

I chose the name Starr because it’s sassy, and reflects a certain social class. The girl is sassy, impudent, though she changes. Also, the fact that she was “named by her grandmother” has significance revealed in the book. Bright is her father’s name, and adds more quirkiness the poor young girl must face. Miz Alma Washington was chosen due to Alma sounding like Mama, and after all, she became a “Mom-in-the-heart” to Starr. 

         Are the characters in your books based on people you know? 

None really, other than the man from my childhood, who I described earlier. I’m a keen observer, and pick up characters and their traits from strangers in restaurants, meeting rooms, at the beach, and while travelling and so forth. 

         Why do you think your readers are going to enjoy your book? 

Everyone loves to be made feel good about their own life, and this character Starr Bright’s life is so wretched, all readers’ trouble pales in comparison. As Starr progresses in character development, solves riddles and crimes, one cannot help but applaud her, celebrate with her. The two-volume novel has a satisfying ending. 

         Are your characters’ experiences taken from someone you know, or events in your own life? 

Okay, I’ve got to admit I was somewhat of a “Starr” myself, when it comes to her adventuresome spirit. At age eight I was on a wooden raft afloat on a very deep lake, pretending I was Huck Finn, and couldn’t swim a stroke. I explore mountain trails, once discovering a rattlesnake so long it stretched across the trail maybe eight feet. It was stone dead. Thank God. When thirsty I drank water from deep-woods springs, and pretended to be an Indian. All this activity was done while my parents were at work, in ignorant bliss of my daytime fun.  

         How long did it take you to write your book?

I started the novel in 2007, and published Volume I in 2011. This long process was due to several factors: transforming my nonfiction skills into writing creative fiction meant attending many workshops and writing classes, getting writer feedback, editing, getting professional critiques, editing again.

         Who designed the cover?

Chris Master is my graphic designer for both of my published works, however I offered suggestions. 

         Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected? (What was it?) 

Of course, I learned much along the way, mostly how little I knew about writing fiction, and how the publishing world works. On a personal level, a writer must look deep inside themselves (and others) in order to produce authentic characters and a believable story. Writing has changed how I view myself, others and the world. I’ve learned of myself, and am a better, more content person because of what writing this novel has taught me. 

  • How do you start writing a new book? What comes first? The characters? The story?
The inspirational “aha” moment and a strong urge to write are how my novels always begin. The Keeper Chronicles being my first fiction project, I went forward the way any organized obsessive perfectionist would: by outlining the plot, selecting characters, giving them names, birthdates, characteristics and quirks. Of course much of the work changed over time, but having a framework to build upon started the story flowing.  

         Do you like to write in series? Or single titles only?

I enjoyed writing this “duet” The Keeper Chronicles, a two-part novel, and left an opening for a third if readership demands. However, I am passionate about my historical novel in progress. I’ve always enjoyed reading and studying history, and plan to write others after this one. 

         Can you describe your main character in 3 words?

       Resourceful, spunky, street-wise

         Can you describe your heroine in one sentence?

Starr Bright, the young heroine of The Keeper Chronicles, will be your new best friend showing you how to be a true survivor of our world’s greatest ills.  

         Can you describe your hero in one sentence? 

 Young Matt Thornberry, arriving on the scene in Volume II, is a motorcyclist and part-time l  lumberjack who loves Sherlock Holmes novels, and is destined to become a key player in Starr’s future. 

         Without giving away details, Can you describe one interesting scene in your book in less than two sentences?

In spite of experiencing stunning success as a young detective, Starr Bright is again terrorized, discovering she’s in the crosshairs of a true stalker who tampered with the Jeep she’s driving, and is placing her in jeopardy on a treacherous mountain road.  

         In two sentences or less can you tell readers something unique about your book?

The complexity of the plot, which consists of subplots, hidden meanings, foreshadowing and backstory, makes this story an enigma, a little puzzle for readers to decipher along with mystery, with an unusually fresh approach to subjects needing aired by today’s readers, and a Book Club Edition with discussion questions at the end. 

         List three adjectives that describe your book as a whole:

       Fresh, sincere, deep 

         Where can a reader purchase your book? 

Currently at www.BuyBooksontheWeb.com however it will be available by request at all bookstores soon, including those on the Web, such as WWW.Amazon.com and others. EBooks are coming available.

                     What other books are most similar to yours? 

The Keeper Chronicles a story with more pathos than Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a winsome protagonist like Lucky in The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, and the mystery and intrigue of Carl Hiaasen’s novel Hoot. 
 
         Where do you find your ideas? Does something trigger them? Do you carry around a notebook in case inspiration strikes?

My novel notebooks are filled with scribbled notes, outlines, lists of characters and traits, and even photos found online which seem to capture people in my books. I’m writing on sticky notes or paper napkins in cafes many times, when inspiration becomes more enticing than the food or companionship of friends. A word spoken at a nearby table, a stranger’s glance or mood, the look of a sunrise outside my window, all these and more trigger my inspiration. 

         How do you research your books? 

The Keeper Chronicles was set on the Atlantic coast and North Carolina mountains, so I travelled to both scenes, visited museums, plus I researched flora and fauna online. Often I pull information from my own career in medicine, and from topical books in my home library. Also, I read many similar fiction books. 

         Have you written your entire life? Have you always considered yourself a writer?

I was published in Grit (a newspaper at the time) and was paid for my article when I was age thirteen, and wrote and was widely published in my corporate career, later becoming a freelance columnist for a national journal or two, and yet I never considered myself a writer until hired as a columnist for a local newspaper in 2007. My becoming a published novelist in 2011 was a new literary achievement. 

         Why do you write?  Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do?

I write because I must write. Writing is my passion, a mental and emotional release, catharsis. The actual process of writing is, to me, its own reward. 

         What is your writing process? 

First, I’ve no idea what writer’s block is, for I take up any notes and scribbles I’ve collected, if any, sit down with my laptop and before I know it hours have passed and I have written several thousand words. I write most easily early in the day. Sometimes I take a beach trip alone for writer solitude, though I find that at home very easily. 

         Where do you want to go with your writing career?  Where do you see your writing career in five years?

I wish my novel The Keeper Chronicles to be read and recommended widely. I want to see children in Boys and Girls Clubs of America reading this book and becoming inspired. I don’t write for fame or riches, however. 

         What is your work in progress? Tell us about it. 

Love in the Crossfire is the working title of my next book, and is based the true story of a couple who were Union Sympathizers living in the heart of slavery, in South Carolina before the Civil War. They migrate to escape the social and economic pressures and avoid the war for two years, yet are ultimately forced at gunpoint to fight for the Confederacy. It’s a portrait of the couple’s determination to survive, their love and bodies intact, against almost unbelievably enormous odds.

         If you were told your stories were unbelievable and not written very well, would you continue to write? What would your response be? 

Of course I can take criticism, even when it’s given rudely. Yes, I do listen, and learn. As stated earlier, I write because I must, no matter how harsh the criticism. 

         Would you ever consider converting one of you stories/published books into a screenplay? And if you could corroborate with someone, who would it be? 

Yes, I’ve imagined my book The Keeper Chronicles produced for cable television and viewed on Lifetime TV. The plot is perfect for that. I know of no screenplay writers to suggest, but will work with anyone who is serious about their craft. 

         Which do you prefer to write – full length novels or short stories? 

This may sound crazy, but I prefer to write novels over short stories. Why? I love the literary challenge.

         Do you have a specific writing style? 

I’m enjoying writing my novels in first person present tense, for the immediacy this brings readers, though this style is challenging for a writer. When I’m reviewing and editing my work, I read aloud, taping myself and then listen for lack of rhythm or confusing areas, and make changes accordingly.

If there were one wish you could ask the genie in the bottle to grant, what would it be?
 
I wish all the children ever born were wanted, protected and truly loved.-G.H. Sherrer 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Saga for All Seasons

 
The Keeper Chronicles book cover, designed by Chris Master,
depicting the novel's troubled young lady as she comes of age,
and her kind ally Miz Alma who helps get the girl's life on track.

In spite of a surprising source of hope found in Miz Alma, the forsaken Starr Bright endures deadly coastal crises only to face her greatest challenge yet. In The Breakthrough (Volume II of The Keeper Chronicles) her seedy beach town is traded for luxurious mountain living at her grandparents, though learning of a family legacy plunges her into despair. Is a new friend failing her, too? An amazing Counselor emerges. Now she must put herself in the balance again to catch another criminal. This stirring family saga with a twist of mystery portrays a troubled young girl poised for a good life, a faith inspiring, fresh work of fiction satisfying readers of all ages.
 
This new novel is available at www.BuyBooksontheWeb.com by entering the title in the search box, and will soon be sold by request at book stores worldwide, as well as on the Web at www.Amazon.com and others. Look for it soon on Kindle, Nook and other eBooks. -G.H. Sherrer
 
Today I am pleased to announce to my readers and friends the publication of my new book, The Keeper Chronicles, Volume I & II, Infinity Publishing 2012. If you read Volume I, The Mall Street Sleuth, published by Infinity in 2011, you will be glad to know it's included (edited version) under the above cover with its sequel Volume II, The Breakthrough.
 
Novel writing isn't easy, nor quick like creating a watercolor painting. I have steadily worked on this book project since 2007, and in my various lulls (due novel critiques or marketing activity for Volume I) began a new novel unrelated to the above one. My antebellum era historical novel, Love in the Crossfire, is at the halfway mark of its first draft, and possibly the one I was "meant to write".
 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Joy (and Importance) of Research

An 1825 Map of South Carolina

Whether you're writing a novel set near Mt. Aetna or in the Orient, if only composing a poem telling of tropical breezes and palm trees... before pounding out a single syllable an author must do his homework. For an historical novel set in another century, when time moved more slowly and words and language differed, clothing, transportation, housing, education, commerce, politics... everything was like a different world. You must study that world more diligently than if you were traveling to Switzerland for the first time, and had picked up a Fodor's at Barnes & Noble.

For inspiration and starters, read other author's novels which are set in the period and place of your work. Keep a written record of all you read and pertinent points which you learn along the way. The more you immerse yourself mentally into that world, the more clearly a picture forms. On reading other's works, keep in mind the accuracy of an author's portrayal can be suspect, so followup with fact-checking on your own.

Next, look on Google Maps for a satellite view of the general topography, the "lay of the land", where rivers run and mountains tower in your chosen setting. Where is north in relationship to a town? Which way does the wind generally blow drifting clouds? Which direction are tropical storms tracking? Before final draft you will need to make an actual visit to this location and take photos, but meantime you are off and running with more authenticity.

Digging online for the area's flora and fauna is a good starting place. Palm trees don't grow in Alaska... everyone knows this, but look deeper into nature for the details to add authenticity, the color of sand on a beach, the underwater-green moss growing on the north side of a cabin's roof shingles, the craggy mountain peaks where a moonrise occurs in August. If historic is your gig, go to the city's Olde Towne. Notice how I used the old English spelling? Throw in a sprinkle of those too, like spice, if appropriate for the era and setting. Consider how planter class people two hundred years ago spoke versus a yeoman farmer, a cattle drover, a merchantman.

If an historic novel is your project, read the nonfiction works of trusted historians, usually afiliated with a university. Thereby you can add actual names (if dead a while, people may be legally up for grabs for writers), and personal information, and you might find the actual neighbors of a real person you're basing the novel upon. Add historical events and political times, such as wars, uprisings and depict how these effected your characters' lives and emotions. Did a drought occur in 1854, sending folks trekking west? Was gold discovered, drawing people?

Universities and historical societies have many historical maps posted online, some which date back hundreds of years, and a few have hand drawn stagecoach and migration routes. Some offer copies available for purchase. Spend many days in the State archives or a major library, and take good notes.

Use plenty of time in writing your historical novel, stopping to reflect on the scene for as long as necessary, until you can smell cow dung and the woodsmoke of a campfire, see fingers of coral light in a desert sunset, feel the dust collecting on your skin from a cattle drive, taste the tang of mesquite in the air. Live the scene in your mind, and then when you write what you "live", your reader with also "live" your scene and characters in a satisfying way.

Have fun in your research! Go to museums, read diaries, talk with the old timers. Writing is enjoyable, and even more so when you travel (literally or through your mind) in researching subject matter. More joy in your journey!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rejections Getting You down?

One thing I've learned as a writer, is that doing so is for inner fulfillment, a private satisfaction coming from doing a job well, staying true to your principles and values. Sure, listen to the reviewers, heed advice. But if a writer tries to emulate another author too much or take the writing rules too seriously, or write to please one reviewer, they will never feel satisfaction, but emptiness.

The first step is to be honest with yourself. Who are you really? What is it you're trying to accomplish by spending countless hours pounding a computer? If it's selfish goals you're after, be prepared for heartache in most cases. Rejections get you down? Then writing may not be for you. A writer has to be grounded in self worth and confidence, must find satisfaction within themselves, pleasing themselves, and if they are blessed with faith, pleasing God. Otherwise they may often find themselves seeking comfort in unhealthy escapes when rejections come. And they will come.

Yesterday I submitted my second book for publishing, a couplet which has taken five years to hone to my satisfaction. Is it perfect? No. Will it please every reader. Never. Am I happy? You'd better believe I am! The feeling is somewhat like birthing a baby you've nurtured inside you, while avoiding things you shouldn't and following all the necessary steps for a successful birth and healthy infant. Now I can relax, await the first copy with satisfaction. Oh, but I do have another novel in progress and my mind is already stirring with inspiration again. That's what writing is about: drawing inspiration and finding fulfillment while holding onto your uniqueness. Always, always be true to yourself, your life principles. Be authentic. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Self-Publisher Scams


Some General Rules for Spotting a Scam Publisher

      * Openly advertises for writers in print or online publications or both.

  • The publisher claims that it's seeking to publish first-time authors.
  • Openly claims that it's not a vanity or subsidy publisher.
  • Claims that it has a new business model that will bring success, but never explains why successful publishers aren't utilizing it.
  • Claims that the established publishers and published writers are trying to block new writers from being published..
  • The publisher gives no or very low advances for books it buys. When it claims to have given higher advances, it never reveals the names of the authors who received those higher advances so the publisher's claim can be verified.
  • The publisher's books are rarely in any bookstores, particularly the large chain stores that carry books from just about all reputable commercial publishers.
  • The publisher's books have never been seen on a bestseller list published by a reputable source such as the New York Times, especially when said publisher claims to be large.
  • The publisher's books rarely sell more than 5,000 books to readers in individual purchases and more often fail to reach that number with most of their books in the double-digits or low triple digits in sales.
  • The publisher refuses to release even approximate sales figures for its own bestsellers.
  • When confronted with very low or non-existent sales, the publisher refuses to release the book from contract.
  • Books it claims to have published were actually published by another publisher, now defunct, that used the same business name.
  • Its contracts contain provisions that prohibit complaints by its authors about its service and product.
  • Postings in online forums never seem to include anyone who was rejected.
  • Online forum criticism is frequently immediately responded to by a defender of that publisher.
  • Acceptances usually take place in less than a month. Even less than a week is not unusual.
  • Acceptance letters tend to be identical when compared with what other authors received.
  • Contract provisions are specific as to how termination can be invoked, but the publisher disdains using anything other than some other method of communication.
  • Communications from the publisher are frequently unsigned by any individual using a department address so that no one can be pinned down as responsible for any comments made to the author.
  • The publisher never gives a direct answer to any direct questions. Instead, the publisher points to others who are satisfied with policy, procedures, contract, or sales as proof that everything is fine.
  • The publisher has a no return policy on its products.
  • The publisher regularly offers special discounts to its authors so they can self-purchase their own books in bulk quantities to resell but fails to offer regular discounts to the buying public.
  • The publisher threatens to blacklist its authors within the industry should they mention leaving.
  • The publisher points out to authors that it's a member of its local BBB. (The BBB is for consumers. Authors are considered businesses.)
  • The publisher doesn't offer its own editing services.
  • The publisher states the author doesn't have to buy books and sell them, but with their business model it's more profitable for the author to do so.
  • The publisher places its writers' books on self-publishing sites though the publisher claimed it offered a "traditional" contract.
  • The publishers claims to be a traditional publisher but your ISBN won't be registered until you've sold some quantity of books.
Some General Rules for Spotting a Scam Literary Agency

  • Openly advertises for writers in print or online publications or both.
  • The agency claims that it's open or seeking first-time authors for representation.
  • Claims that it has new methodology for gaining access or acceptance with book publishers, but never explains why successful agencies aren't utilizing it.
  • Does not list any sales or refuses to divulge the titles of sales for confidentiality reasons.
  • Claims it performs reading and gives recommendations to agencies but does not list any sales or refuses to divulge the agency names for confidentiality reasons.
  • The only sales it lists are for vanity or subsidy publishers or the sales it lists were made by the author before the author signed with the agent, often years before representation.
  • Sales it claims to have made cannot be found listed in any reference lists of books that were printed by the supposed publisher.
  • Sales it made were mostly to a publishing house wholly or partially owned by the agency.
  • Requires an upfront payment for administration or for a web display or for later postage and copying.
  • Online forum postings never include anyone who was rejected.
  • Online forum criticism is frequently responded to by a defender of that agency.
  • Representation is usually granted in less than a month or even less than a week.
  • Representation acceptances are usually worded identically.
  • The agency name has changed, but the same personnel still work at the same address and there was no conflict with another agency with the same or a similar name and no merger to warrant a change.
  • The agency never provides original comments from publishers that manuscripts were allegedly submitted to.
  • The agency never provides original invoices or receipts for postage or copying expenses it claims were made on behalf of the author.
  • The agency suggests that it will grant representation if the manuscript is first given professional editing. Frequently, it will suggest who should do the editing or offer to make its own in-house editing service available for a discount price.
  • The agency threatens to blacklist its authors within the industry should they mention leaving.
  • The agency points out to authors that it's a member of its local BBB. (The BBB is for consumers. Authors are considered businesses.)
P&E recommends that writers keep in mind that these rules are based upon the known behavior of scams, but that some legitimate businesses occasionally skirt on some of these rules in their own normal activities. Writers should keep in mind that most scams will follow or break more than a few of the rules we recommend for spotting them. Legitimate businesses rarely break more than two.



Friday, May 18, 2012

The Growing Season


At this point in time, the growing season for children and plants, my writing takes second place to many more important matters. It's people who inspire me most, and nature.  My advice to writers? Take time for people and God's other creation, observing, appreciating, sharing.
Now, the blueberries growing in my fence corner came on full and lush this spring. Recalling how the birds flocked to them last year, I vowed to keep my berries safe for five-year-old Reagan. First up, I tried “bird netting” bought at Lowes. The net was carefully arranged over the bushes.
“I covered the blueberries to keep the birds away,” I told Reagan. She threw back her head, giggled and giggled, her brown eyes dancing.
Unfortunately, the winds blow hard on this hill where I live and berries came through the net, leaving exposed berries dangling and tangling in the warp and weave. I carefully removed and trashed the thing, as visions of birds caught, trapped, came into my mind.
Next up I bought a plastic owl, a foot or more tall, from Walmarts, complete with wobbly, revolving head and huge golden, spooky eyes. "It'll work," said the saleman. Encouraged and hopeful, I placed it on a tiny metal table near the berries. Its big head revolved in the slightest breeze and the birds disappeared. I named the owl Hooty, which brought more giggles from Reagan, as she scoured the bushes for berries, making happy little murmurs when finding a few ripe ones scattered among leaves.
A week passed. At twilight, even I occasionally started, seeing the owl’s dark profile, so scary and ominous as he sat, guarding my back yard. Silence settled in. No tweets, twitters and bird songs came to brighten my mornings and cheer my evenings. In the bright sunshine Japanese beetles devoured my roses, circling over them in small clouds, glutting and mating freely. I mowed the grass and no birds came to feed on bugs afterward. Bugs crawled on window glass and screened porch.
In desperation and after only a week-long experiment, one evening I removed the owl and hid it under a pillow on the porch chair. Early the next day a small, brave bird appeared tentatively on the fence, a female Southern blue.
I left for the day, and was I ever pleased on returning home, to see birds of every kind and color… in a frenzy flying about my yard, one even hitting a windowpane. A mocker camped out in the roses eating beetles incessantly, and a redbird swooped and dove across the yard seemingly drunk. Finches trilled in the trees nearby, celebrating and adding music to the orgy-like bug fest/feast.
Still standing amazed at the open aviary of my yard, I was on the phone with my brother when I noted a fat chipmunk scurrying along the fence, heading toward my blueberry bushes. It arrived to its dinner in short order, reared back on hind legs and with tiny hands, grasped the blueberry limb drawing it to itself and eating green berries!
It had been with great puzzlement that I’d noticed the green ones becoming sparse, even when my guard Hooty Owl was in place. The chipmunk wasn’t fooled by a plastic predator Hoo Hoo Hooty, now sent into early retirement and only after one week’s work.
This morning at daylight, I awakened to sweet sounds of songbirds again and giggled like a five-year-old. Costco sells great blueberries.
Be inspired!-G.H. Sherrer

Friday, April 27, 2012

The "Back Story"

What's the "back story" in this photo?
Writers know a secret. The back story is as interesting and necessary to a work as is main plot, adding depth and breadth, dimension to an otherwise "flat" boring piece. Consider the photo above.
Now, look closer. The flowers, though showy and bright, seem to have parted a bit, allowing the majestic San Jacinto Mountain Range to peek into view.  

Imagine how a camera close-up of the mountain would look. Then see yourself driving a convertible along a winding road to its peak, the warm desert breeze in your hair and sun on face, going up and up, a cliff dropping sharply down more than mile on one side, and the other roadside rife with boulders poised to fall.
When you reach the top safely, stop for a rest at an isolated roadside cafe, then take a hike onto a forest trail bordered with lofty firs where elk stop and stare. 

Now, are those show-off flowers the real story?

The back story breathes life into a story, and is as vital as oxygen. Be inspired! G. H. Sherrer

Monday, March 26, 2012

Web Sites for Writers


Ever get lost in your Web searches for information? Everyone does. Be inspired by AgentQuery.com and their following list for serious writers:

"We've done your homework for you: here are some of the best, most useful websites out there for writers. When it comes to helping writers find a literary agent, chatting with other like-minded authors, or researching industry leads and alternative publishing paths, these are some of the first-class writing and publishing websites.

"Also be sure to check out our official AQ "KNOW THY GENRE" Writers Website Cheat Sheet in which we list the top websites for fiction genres like literary fiction, children's/midde grade/young adult, science fiction & fantasy, romance, thrillers & suspense, mystery and crime, and historical fiction. "

AGENT HUNTING

The Association of Authors’ Representatives
The AAR was formed in 1991 through the merger of the Society of Authors' Representatives (founded in 1928) and the Independent Literary Agents Association (founded in 1977). To qualify for membership in the AAR, an agent must meet professional standards specified in AAR's bylaws and agree to subscribe to its Canon of Ethics. However, AAR cannot regulate the commissions, fees, services, or other competitive business practices of its members.

Their website and searchable agent member database has recently been updated. Based on our current intelligence, it seems like AAR has stepped up to the plate and made an effort to keep their database regularly maintained and accurate. And although we consider every agent in our AQ database legitimate, not every agent in our AQ database is a member of AAR. In our opinion, AAR membership is not a black & white litmus test for good versus bad. It simply offers one source for verifying potential credibility. For more info. on what exactly it means for a literary agent to be an AAR member, check out our official AQ Guide to AAR Membership.

Preditors and Editors
P & E’s website keeps an ongoing list of literary agents, reputable and non-reputable, for all writers to browse and compare notes. And although this website doesn’t maintain current addresses of agents or always list the most accurate information regarding which agent is affiliated with which agency (literary agents are peripatetic; they change agencies, start their own agencies, then close shop and move to bigger agencies more times in a year than J-Lo gets married), it does serve as a great source for ferreting out the scammers.

Bottom line: if you’re interested in an agent who you don’t find in our AQ database, we recommend that you cross-reference the agent’s name with Preditors and Editors’ list. If you find the agent’s name on P & E with a “Not Recommended” rating, then you’ll immediately know why she’s not in our AQ database. Read our Beware of Scammers page, and stay away from Ms. Questionable Agent—far, far away.

Publishers Marketplace
Publishers Marketplace is one of the most trusted industry-insider resources and offers a wealth of information for a month-to-month subscription fee of $20. This subscription includes search privileges to view their "recent sales" agent database. PM also offers Publishers Lunch, a free daily e-zine that recaps the book sales made to the major & indie publishers. For example, Publishers Lunch tells you that Mr. Agents sold the book Lovely Secrets by Sho-shana Friedricks, about a twenty-something girl with leukemia who refuses to tell her fiancĂ© she’s dying, to Ms. Editor at Simon & Schuster. Keep in mind, however, that Publishers Lunch only reports the news that agents and editors feed them, and not every agent on the planet feels compelled to report their sales to Publishers Lunch. And by the way, our AQ database only lists a "snapshot" of an agent's sales history, especially highlighting the titles that can be reviewed on Amazon. We let Publishers Marketplace take care of databasing all the agents' deals for us.

Writer Beware
Similar to Predators & Editors, Writer Beware’s goal is to provide writers with current information about known scammers in the literary agent world. They often put out an A.P.B regarding specific names and organizations to avoid at all cost. They also thoroughly outline how to tell a reputable literary agent from a questionable one, and maintain a blog to educate writers about the detrimental scamming practices of fee-charging “rogue” agents who prey on the vulnerable, desperate sensibilities of wannabe authors. You can also email Writer Beware to ask specifically about an agent or publisher, and they'll check the agent or publisher against their extensive database. If Writer Beware shouts, "Stay away!" we recommend that you sprint in the other direction of that questionable agent or publisher.

GENERAL WRITING & PUBLISHING RESOURCES

Poets & Writers Magazine
Poets & Writers offers informative articles, publishing news, special features, and important deadlines for literary contests, conferences, residencies, awards, and grants. It’s the best online and in-print guidance magazine for aspiring writers—and they’re not paying us to say that. A subscription to this magazine will keep you informed and in-the-loop, and we also recommend checking out their Tools for Writers. It’s a treasure trove of links and mini-databases related to writing contests, indie presses, grants, residencies, writing organizations, literary agents, and more.

Writer's Digest
Writer's Digest offers both a website and monthly print magazine that provides topical "digestible" information of interest to mainstream writers. Their articles are generally geared towards the beginning to intermediate level writer, and often focus on the mechanics of good writing and selling one's self as a writer. If you're new to all of this, reading Writer's Digest is a great way to slowly immerse yourself into the world of publishing and its complex facets. If you're looking for an agent, we purusing their blog, Guide to Literary Agents. Writer's Digest also sponsors their annual 101 Best Web Sites for Writers. And you know it, baby, AQ made the 2010 short list. Sixth year in a row!

Writing World
This site offers solid nuts-and-bots advice to all writers of all genres. Fresh articles and columns are posted weekly, and there's simply a mind-boggling amount of how-to advice for the beginning writer, including A Step-by-Step Guide to Launching Your Writing Career and How to Write a Successful Query Letter as well as How to Find Markets for your writing, and Aspects of the Writing Life (like rejection and writer's block). And that's just for the newbies. And perhaps most helpful to emerging writers is their Rights & Contracts page, packed with information regarding publishing rights, copyrights, contracts & payment issues, piracy, plagiarism and scams.

WRITING & PUBLISHING ONLINE COMMUNITIES

AgentQuery Connect
AQ Connect is our online social networking community. It's a great place to poke around for the most current information regarding how to get an agent, agent submissions, as well as the state of the current pubishing industry. We offer a dedicated group just for Query Critiques and Synopsis Critiques as well as a Guppie Pond for all you newbies who have a question, but feel timid about publicly posting it. Whether you want to just lurk and learn, or become an active participating member, AQ Connect is fresh, informative, and free resource to educate yourself on all the aspects of professional publishing.

Absolute Write
AbsoluteWrite has a huge, loyal fan base that is dominated by newbie writers and established authors who critique, gossip, and educate each other about the realities and pitfalls of the publishing industry. Their Beware and Background Check forum is moderated by several watchdogs who tirelessly work to educate newbie writers who fall prey to the most common of the agency and publishing scams. If you can get past the newbie scam paranoia that is prevalent on this board, you'll glean some valuable tips and writing opportunities from the more regular posters.

Figment Fiction
Figment is a community where you can share your writing, connect with other readers, and discover new stories and authors. Whatever you're into, from sonnets to mysteries, from sci-fi stories to cell phone novels, you can find it all here. Figment Fiction is quickly becoming one of the top new literary social networking sites, and over a dozen publishers, including Random House, Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette and Perseus are already paying to market their books and authors on the site. Future plans for the site include a marketplace where authors—both professional and amateur—and book publishers can sell their works.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Calls for Submission


Today's post comes from Poets & Writers Magazine, a call for submissions. Be inspired! -G.H. Sherrer

ARE YOU A GRASS ROOTS POET? We define a grass roots poet as: one who is not necessarily educated or defined as a poet by traditional poetry societies. Diversity! Submit work to Green Fuse Poetic Arts Association’s anthology, chapbook, e-zine publications, contests, as well as the new “Grandmother Editions.” www.greenfusepoeticarts.org.
AUGUST 2013 ANTHOLOGY from Sibling Rivalry Press seeks poetry submissions. “This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching.” Deadline is June 1. See website for complete guidelines: www.thisassignmentissogay.com.
THE CANCER POETRY PROJECT has extended its deadline to April 2012. Seeking cancer-related poems by patients/survivors, spouses/partners, family members, friends, and health advisers. Roughly 150 poems will be selected for second anthology. A dozen poets and their favorite cancer organizations will receive cash awards. To submit, visit www.cancerpoetryproject.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @cancerpoetry.
ECHOOK DIGITAL PUBLISHING publishes fiction, memoir, and essays on all platforms. Be read by thousands of readers in 95 countries, featured (with links) on Facebook, Twitter, and at echook.com. Learn techniques of classic authors: free writing tips from Tessa Smith McGovern, teacher at Sarah Lawrence College. Submissions open now. echook.com.
POETRY IN THE CATHEDRAL 2012: An Anthology of New Christian Poetry seeks original, unpublished poetry dealing with themes of Christian faith, life, and values. Limit 3 poems, no fee. Pays in contributor’s copy. Please review guidelines carefully. Deadline April 1. Full details found in Submissions at www.poetryinthecathedral.com.
SEEKING ESSAYS ON THE GRAND CANYON backpacking experience for a Vishnu Temple Press anthology. Avoid tales of “conquering” or merely “surviving” the Canyon. Convey the sights and sounds, the texture and spirit of that place, and the richness of your immersion. Deadline June 30. Guidelines at www.vishnutemplepress.com. Questions? E-mail canyonhikingessays@gmail.com.
SHORT HORROR STORIES NEEDED. 1,000 words or less, for soon-to-be-published anthology. More info: www.apocryphile.orgshort.html.
WHISPERING ANGEL BOOKS is accepting inspirational and uplifting short stories and poems about the children that touch our lives for our latest anthology. 1,500 words max. Submission fee is $5 per story or up to 5 poems. Deadline: April 30. To submit and review full guidelines: www.whisperingangelbooks.com.
WISING UP PRESS/UNIVERSAL TABLE: Submissions for a Wising Up anthology, “Daring to Repair: What It Takes, Who Does It, and Why.” Poetry, fiction, memoir, and creative nonfiction on the theme of repair in all kinds of relationships. Deadline: June 1. Full description and guidelines: www.universaltable.org/wisingup.html.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Traditional Publishing: Fiction

Attract Publisher Attention. Be a Beautiful Jellyfish in a School of Shad Minnows.
There is no mystery in what makes one manuscript be picked up and another rejected. In today's world, it's whatever will sell. Period. And one only has to look closer than their local B&N to see the popular genre's and topics. However, never sell out and write about vampires when you detest such weirdness. Be true to yourself, true to what's on your heart to write. Having said this, a writer can still get points across and package a story in a way to be picked up. Below are some tips gleaned from AgentQuery.com.
Be Inspired!-G.H.Sherrer
Novels:
The good news about getting fiction published is that there are no rules. You don’t have to be previously published, a graduate of a MFA creative writing program, the winner of a prestigious contest. You certainly don’t have to write like Jane Austin. You just have to tell a brilliant, intriguing story in 85,000 to 100,000 words. Write a story that neatly falls into a popular genre category like commercial fiction, women’s fiction, romance, suspense, or mystery.

The fiction market is tight. You’ll also find out that it doesn’t matter how beautiful you write. You better tell a good story or you’ll be rejected. A good story with great hook, some snazzy characters, pacing, and an intriguing plot. If you've written a literary masterpiece, be prepared for a lot of rejection. 

Writers, be mentally prepared. It's easy to say you don't care about being published while you're writing the great American novel. But four years later, when you're finished with your masterpiece, and you begin shopping it around, you'll find it hard to swallow all those positive rejections from literary agents who say, "Wow, you're such a beautiful writer, but sorry, I can't sell your book."

Plot over prose is the mantra of publishing nowadays.  

One final thought, novelists… write a query letter and start soliciting agents, but ONLY if you’ve finished the whole manuscript. Agents will want to see the whole polished book before they extend representation to a newbie unpublished author, so don’t query agents until your novel is complete.


Novellas & Short Story Collections:
Traditional publishers want novels, not novellas (adult novels under 60,000 words) or short story collections. Agents simply follow these orders. While it’s true that agents can sell linked novellas or short story collections to publishers, it’s often in a two-book deal in which the second book is a future novel. Although stories are great for literary magazines, the mantra in the publishing world is that short story collections don’t sell. So if you’ve got one to peddle, be prepared for a long uphill battle for your short story collection.

It’s not impossible to sell a short story collection to a major publisher, but it does help if the stories are closely linked somehow—thematically or through a few reoccurring characters. It also helps if one or two stories in the collection have been previously published in notable literary journals. Being published on the internet doesn’t count.

Don’t take this attitude towards short stories as dismissive of their merit. Plenty of contemporary writers have broken into the publishing scene with their first short story collections. Aspiring authors simply need to know that novels are easier for agents to sell.

 

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Science of Querying a Traditional Publisher: Nonfiction Book

 
Don't be just another sloppy fish in the sea (publisher slush pile). Learn to query.

Attracting the attention of a literary agent or editor is just like applying for a job or college. Depending on your type of writing, whether short stories, novel, non-fiction book you hope to publish, there’s an established application process that every writer must follow. The basic application is a query, synopsis or proposal, and sample chapters. This remains the industry standard. Just like applying for a MFA program, where the quality of your overall application determines your acceptance, the same is true for agents, editors. Writing awards, MFA’s, referrals and publishing credits do influence many agent and editors, but most important is the quality of your writing.

Before you seek publication, make sure you’re the best. Write, edit and rewrite some more. Then show your friends, and attend a writing workshop before rewriting again. Your writing must be A+ quality. Otherwise, you’ll be disappointed.

My next series of blog posts will address how to query, specific to three genres. Below is my first:

Nonfiction:

According to AgentQuery.com, “It is much easier to sell nonfiction in today’s marketplace than fiction. In fact, it’s the rare agent who only specializes in fiction because nonfiction serves as the industry’s bread and butter. Every psychologist, relationship coach, medical expert, design guru, culinary extraordinaire, talk show host, politician, ex-Hollywood assistant, and organic farmer has a nonfiction book to sell. Why not you?”

Sure, literary agents prefer nonfiction authors with credentials and a platform (professional in-roads for promoting your book). But if you study the nonfiction books sold by many of the agents, you’ll find credentials don’t always mean a PhD or a ten-year career. Think through your life experiences and imagine possibilities.  

In the submission process, all agents require a query, describing who you are and why you’re qualified to write your book, and a proposal, including an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters. But that’s it. Agents don’t always need to see the whole nonfiction book because they can sell it to major publishers based upon the your credentials and proposal.
How do you write a nonfiction proposal? Very carefully, as a professional. This author found Michael Hyatt's "Writing a Winning Book Proposal" on literary agent Steve Laube's website helpful, and which you can find by Googling. Be Inspired! -G.H. Sherrer