New Year's Writing

Mywritinglife1.1 So many of us write New Year’s lists: what we’d do if we could. The people I know (many of us WEbookers are in this category, too) often write a variation of this sentence: I will write this year, if I can. If I find the time. If I had a place to write.. A better job. If my son/daughter were a little older. Graduated from high school. College. Law School. If I had more money. A better job.  If I didn’t have to take care of my aunt. My mother. My diabetes. If I were thinner or fatter. If only I had a new computer.

Nora Roberts, the remarkable and not uncomplicated writer who generates book after book, said in The New Yorker this summer, when asked for writing advice: Put your ass in the chair.
I have read many writing books. In fact, I’m addicted to them, although I know that no one even me can tell you how to write. I’ve read Anne LaMott and Brenda Euland, Stephen King and John Irving, Dorothea Brande and Annie Dillard: all experts, in different ways, of how to write. And I’ve taught writing, for years. Or tried to. But I’ve never heard such succinct and practical advice. To be a writer is to write. To write is to sit in one place – the circumstances don’t matter, even a little. The room could be a dark small warren crowded with pizza boxes or a villa on top of the Tuscan Hills. What matters, and all that matters, is putting words right down on the page. One of my favorite writing book authors, Peter Elbow (what a name: Peter Knee, Peter Shoulder, not nearly as succinct) talks eloquently about how you have to write many words, inane flat words, to get to those words that sing.
Buy a new notebook, if that’s part of your ritual, or a ream of Staples paper. And begin. That’s all. Just begin. Remember that you are not Leo Tolstoy or Joyce Carol Oates, and that’s a good thing.
For so many years now, as one of the ways I’ve earned a living, I’ve helped people, friends and strangers, write their books. The way I’ve helped, in weekly sessions that sometimes lasted for years, is just by being there as a reader, repeating over and over again that writing is what matters. Writing anything and everything. Dreams and journals often help writers find the story they want to tell. All writing is stories. If we’re lucky, if we practice and try and don’t give up,  if we listen carefully, pay attention, and live as fully as we can, our stories will be good enough to tell one another, somehow. I await all the stories, all the unexpected sentences, that WEbook writers will create, in 2010.

Many words to you all..

Esther Cohen shares her writing life on the WEbook blog and  teaches Good Stories at Manhattanville College. She’s the author of 5 books,
Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree. Read more about Esther's Writing Life.


Bestselling Author Joe Finder Answered SO Many Questions! Thanks Joe!

Company Man PART 3 of the amazing 3 PART interview series with bestselling author Joseph Finder. We have learned so much! Thank you Joe for all of your thoughtful insight about research, outlines and writing in general. If you aren't too busy wrapping presents, hanging mistletoe and/or eating delicious holiday goodness...start from the beginning: Click to read PART 1 and PART 2. Or hop in right here with PART 3:

I'm a pretty young writer, so I have very little experience in this field. I enjoy writing, but I have a lot of trouble putting all my ideas on paper... It's a bit frustrating... XD  So... How do you get a novel going? What steps do you take to put those first words onto paper? Thanks!! –KATY

It sounds simple-minded, but if you're feeling really intimidated, you start with lists.  Character names.  Events.  Places. Over a period of many years, I've learned that I have to work from an outline; not all writers do, but I do. It's not an elaborate outline, and it changes along the way, but it lays out a sequence of events for my characters, lists character names, includes some details I want to incorporate, etc. 

Power Play The biggest challenge for any beginning novelist is simply the time it takes, which intimidates most people. But no one sits down and cranks out 90,000 words at once; you do it 1,000 words at a time, or even 500 words at a time. If you can write a page a day, you can finish a book in a year. 

For me, the first words of any new book come from a "What if?" question.  What if a mid-level marketing guy started taking those "business is war" books a little too seriously?  What if a group of criminals took a company's whole leadership structure hostage? How might an ex-Special Forces operative put his devious talents to use in the business world? 

Keep a notebook or one of those small digital recorders close by, and write things down as they occur to you. Not every idea will pay off, but you'll always have a reserve to go back to.

And finally, the most important weapon you can have to combat the fear of the blank computer screen is what I call the crappy draft.  (Well, I use stronger language than that….)  You have to allow yourself to just write something, anything, to write a draft that’s bad in a lot of ways.  Tell yourself this is the crappy draft and don’t worry about it. You’ll fix it later. Otherwise, if you’re too much of a perfectionist, you’ll never get a word down.

Vanished Could you tell us a little bit about how your first novel got published? Was it a struggle to find an agent? Did you do a lot of rewrites and revisions? –MATT

I had written a nonfiction book about Dr. Armand Hammer that drew a great deal of attention — mainly from Dr. Hammer, who wanted to make sure that no one ever read it. But what I really wanted to do was to write a novel.  I was intimidated by fiction, though, and it took me years to decide to try it. I gave myself a deadline of three years to write it and find an agent, and I sold the book just weeks before that self-imposed deadline expired. 

Finding an agent was a challenge. It's tough for everyone, and although I knew some people in the business, it was tough for me as well. Especially for fiction it’s hard to find the right agent, because so many of them aren’t willing to actually read past the flaws and figure out how to fix a beginner’s manuscript.  That takes an agent who’s both skilled and motivated. The agent who finally did take me on told me that the first 55 pages of my manuscript needed to go; he was only willing to represent the book because he'd managed to make it past the book's long, needlessly expository opening section. I looked at the manuscript again, and realized he was right

Follow Joe on Twitter or check out his website. 

Joseph Finder
is a bestselling thriller author and hailed as the “CEO of Suspense,” has published nine novels including the bestselling
High Crimes which was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. He has recently sold two more bestselling novels to Hollywood and his latest thriller, Vanished, landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Vanished, published in August 2009, is the first book in a continuing series featuring corporate security specialist Nick Heller.

PART 2 Joe Finder Answers Your Questions!

Finder-joseph This is PART 2 of a 3 PART Q&A series with bestselling author Joe Finder. Questions by WEbookers and answers by Joe. Want to start with PART 1? Or just dive in right here and read about Joe's thoughts on outlines, research and Twitter. Thanks again Joe!

I've heard a variety of opinions from popular authors regarding outlines. Some writers swear by them, while others say they don't like constricting their narrative with a pre-set plan. You strike me as an outline guy, but I wanted to ask anyway: What are your thoughts on outlines? And have they changed at all over time?

Yeah, I’m an outline guy.  You’re right.  But I came to this realization the hard way.  I’ve tried it a bunch of other ways – no outline at all, a skeletal outline, an immensely detailed outline. . . It took me a while to work out my system.  But here’s the important thing: you do what works for you.  That’s the cool thing about writing: you make your own rules. I know and admire authors who don't outline at all — Lee Child and Harlan Coben, for instance — but I’ve learned it's not the way I write.  I experimented with writing Power Play without an outline, and it took me twice as long as it should have, because I didn't give myself a map. 

That said, I know some authors who write outlines that are almost novella-length; Jeffery Deaver, I think, starts with an outline that might be close to 100 pages long. Robert Ludlum used to write outlines that were easily 150 pages. That's not me, either. That saps the writing process of all the fun of discovery and spontaneity. So I compromise: I lay out a sequence of events — the "beats" of the novel — and I'll make lists of character names and descriptions and even scenes and scraps of dialogue that I want to incorporate.  It's not especially detailed, and it does change along the way when new and better ideas present themselves, but it gives me the feeling that I'm working with a net.

Here’s how I think of it, since I’m a techie guy: it’s the difference between driving with a GPS and driving with directions you’ve downloaded from Google Maps.  If you drive from Boston MA to Syracuse NY using a GPS, it’ll drive you crazy, having that voice tell you “in three tenths of a mile right turn on I-90…”  You can’t listen to music, you can’t be in your own head, you’re always aware of that control-freak voice telling you what to do. No fun. But if you drive without any directions at all, you’ll end up in Tulsa. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Tulsa.) So I print out my directions on Google Maps; that way I have the directions, I know the route, and it allows me to take the more scenic route at times.

Hi Joe, I'm a very young writer (still at school) and was just wondering how you would go about researching your books? If you were to write a book set in a country that you dont live in, how would you go about finding out more about their culture, accents, etc? –MEL

Visiting in person is always the best way, but the Internet is a pretty decent second best.  YouTube lets you hear accents and even languages from all over the world, and Google Earth gives you not only satellite views but sometimes street-level views of neighborhoods all over the planet.  Search for blogs from the region you're writing about, and look for biographies and memoirs of people from there; memoirs, in particular, often give details of everyday life that history books omit. 

Hi Joe! Great question from Mel, let me do a follow-up -- how would you then integrate that information in a way that was smooth and believable, and check to make sure it was represented accurately? –LITTLEFLUFFYCAT

Nothing is more jarring than a book that shoves in all kinds of details in order to show off the author's research. One way to test yourself, if you're not sure whether you've got too much information or not enough, is to rewrite a sequence as if it were set in your own neighborhood. What would you need to tell a stranger about your own neighborhood in order to establish that sense of place? Street names, landmarks, characteristic noises or smells — but just enough, not too much. In Boston, for example, a giant Citgo sign looms over Kenmore Square, and you can see it for almost a mile in any direction. It's not far from my own office, and when I see it, it tells me I'm home. Look for signifiers like that, but don't distract your reader with unnecessary details. Here’s my rule: research should be like the tip of an iceberg – no more than 10% should show.

I'd like to ask you to describe both positive & negative experiences that you may have had using these social media. You are very engaged with your fans, especially on twitter, and I'm wondering if at times it can be overwhelming or even "frightening?" MERLECHLOE

I love new technology, and I love all the new means of communication we have now – e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – but at the same time I hate them, because they split your attention, divert your focus.  The immediate gratification you get from e-mail can ruin your concentration. I find Twitter to be an especially amazing and powerful way to connect with my readers in a way that I’ve never done before: it’s immediate, intimate, informal – and, yes, totally overwhelming at times. I've met literally thousands of new friends and readers through Twitter, and I love interacting with them. But it can take over. I can tell myself I'm taking a quick break from writing just to check in with my readers, and before I know it, half the day is gone.  There's always one more message to respond to, one more question to answer, one more great piece of information to follow up on. It's a little like research, in that way. I've had to ration myself, especially lately, while I'm finishing the next book, and at times I even have to go cold turkey. I still haven’t figured out how to balance Twitter with my writing life.

Keep reading...check out PART 3!

Joe writes about how he gets a book started and how he got his first book published! Follow Joe on Twitter @joefinder or visit his website.

New York Times Bestselling Author Joe Finder Answers Your Questions - PART 1

Joseph Finder For the last few weeks, bestselling author Joseph Finder (@JoeFinder) has been reading your questions. He answered so many (and wrote such thoughtful responses) that we are going to split the Q&A into several posts, one this weekend (now), one on Monday and the last one on Tuesday. It's a three part-thrilla-palooza! And there is quite a bit to look forward to...

Take it away Joe....!

Hi Joe! I am a new fan. I just finished several of your novels, including Vanished. They are all fantastic! I would like to know who your favorite novelists are? –LISA
Thanks! I'm like most writers I know, in that I became a writer because I love to read so much. The first books that really captured my imagination — and gave me the idea that I could be a writer — were the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron (The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, etc.). I wrote Mrs. Cameron a letter, and she wrote me back; it was a revelation to me, as until then I don't think I realized that books came from regular people who just sat around and made them up. Then I fell in love with Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and so it began . . .

The novelists I love most as an adult are the ones who combine the power of storytelling with characters you can't forget, and many of these are "literary" novelists: Saul Bellow, especially Humboldt's Gift; Philip Roth; Robertson Davies, whose Deptford Trilogy is magical; E.L Doctorow, especially the pageant of Ragtime; John Fowles, in The Magus; and Sue Miller, who happens to be a friend but is also an amazing writer.

How did you get your inspiration from all your books? –ANONYMOUS

Inspiration is everywhere. I'm serious. Watch the news, drive the carpool, shop for groceries, and play the "What if" game. What if the person in the car in front of you were plotting to kill his boss?  What if that nanny on the playground is secretly adding herself to all her employer's financial accounts? What if a deranged shoe store employee decided to take her revenge by dusting zombie powder inside that foot-measurer contraption, and planned to marshal a zombie army to take over the mall? More realistically, look for sources of stress and conflict in the world around you. Every conflict is a story: somebody wants something, somebody else wants something different, and the path to resolution is your plot.

Hello Joe, I was wondering if you have any tips on writing a synopsis? Is there a formula to follow? Thanks! –J.E.WEBBER
Think of it as like the jacket copy on a novel: it grabs you, tells you what kind of novel it is, who the basic characters are, what the premise is, what kind of other books it’s like. A reader in a bookstore picks up a novel because of its cover, but then she or he reads to jacket copy to see what it’s about, and in 400 words or so she gets it. That’s all you need, but it’s highly compressed. If you’re doing a longer synopsis for an agent, it helps to think of it as a newspaper article that reports the events of your novel. Name your characters, establish their environment, lay out their goals and describe the journey they take to get there. Synopses should follow the narrative sequence of your book (that is, if your book is structured in flashbacks, the synopsis should reflect that), but in general, shorter is better. 

What writing faux pas do you commonly find yourself falling victim to (and subsequently having to go back and fix) in your writing process? RICH
You’d think that after having written 10 novels I’d have the process down perfectly, but I don’t. Someday, but not yet. I often give a talk at writer’s conferences that I used to call The Six Biggest Mistakes That Even Bestselling Writers Make, and then it grew into the Ten Biggest Mistakes, then the Thirteen Biggest Mistakes….. None of us is perfect, no matter how successful. None of us gets the book right in the first draft.  Often, in my own first drafts, I find it takes me way too long to get the party started – I call this Joefinderfan-1 throat-clearing.  Then I’ll re-read it and find myself mentally drumming my fingers – get to it, already!  That’s a big one. Some mistakes I find I seem to just have to make as a way of finding myself into the story.  For me, it’s just part of the process.

Hi Joe! I'd like to ask about your most embarrassing moment; I'm sure there are many! :> -MERLECHLOE
Ugh, do we have to talk about this?  No, really, I've never done ANYTHING that embarrassed me.  We won't talk about the time I broke my fly zipper the morning before interviewing a major corporation's CEO, and he found me dealing with it in the men's room on the executive floor immediately before the interview (before we had even been introduced), my pants puddled on the floor on top of my shoes.  No, we'll just skip right over this question . . .

...keep reading...jump into PART 2

Joseph Finder
is a bestselling thriller author and hailed as the “CEO of Suspense,” has published nine novels including the bestselling
High Crimes which
was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. He has
recently sold two more bestselling novels to Hollywood and his latest
Vanished, landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Vanished, published in August 2009, is the first book in a continuing series featuring corporate security specialist Nick Heller.

Good Stories , or I Lost My IPHONE

Mywritinglife1.1 Esther Cohen teaches Good Stories at Manhattanville College. She’s the author of 5 books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree. Her last post was about Watch Repair and Other Sources of Inspiration.

“A real writer is always shifting, and changing, and searching.”   

                                                                                                     - JAMES BALDWIN

This week’s good story (I hope good is the right word – it’s a story anyway) is about losing my IPhone. I am not a techie. I don’t (this is a confession) actually know how to turn on my new big flat screen tv. Although my husband’s given me lessons. As readers of this column may remember, I write with a pen, in a notebook. But the IPhone, a gift from my husband a year ago this December, transcended my fear of Cuisinarts, new televisions, and other familiar equipment. I fell in love with my IPhone on site. It is beautiful. And I even played my first ever game (is it a video game, if it’s on the IPhone? Maybe.): skeeball.
So when I lost my IPhone last week, it seemed a little, like losing a child. I felt I lost everything: my dates, drafts of poems, my small beautiful office, scores of notes and dates and addresses. The weekend before, I’d bought a third world IPhone case, a beautiful piece of embroidered Peruvian cloth, with bright blue beads on the strap. My phone was in my case when I lost it. I didn’t know what to do, so I googled online: What Do You Do If you Lose Your IPhone. The answers were not satisfying. Nothing clear.
I started calling my own number, frantically. Hearing my own message. I called half a dozen times over the course of an hour. The sixth time, a man answered with this perfect sentence: Is This Your IPhone? For one minute, I was completely thrilled. YES I shouted. Where are you? I will come there immediately. I’m on Central Park West, he replied. But I’ll come to you. Give me your address. I found it on the corner of Columbus and 77th. On the street. Do you live nearby?
That made me nervous. Who was he? I didn’t want him here. Even with my IPhone. I’ll meet you on the corner in front of Isabella’s Restaurant, I said, trying not to sound apprehensive. But I was. And I wasn’t quite sure why. He had my IPhone. I wanted it back. That’s all that mattered.
I stood in front of Isabella’s Restaurant, one of those chopped salad places, and as if in slow motion, every conceivable odd human being walked by me: an old homeless guy who looked kind but crazy, a man pushing a shopping cart filled to the top with pieces of cloth, a hip hop teenager, two men who had the Sopranos gait. Everytime someone walked passed me I wondered Does He Have My IPhone? Was it a scam? Did he want money for my phone?
I had a twenty dollar bill in my hand. Waiting was one of those interminable times (it could have been l5 minutes, or 20. No more.) A man walked up to me in Comme des Garcon clothes. Beautiful, expensive, French-Japanese. He had one of those incredible noses that you’d paint if you were a painter. Thin, long, wide. He looked wildly successful, artistic, worldly, handsome. And he had my IPhone.
I like strangers, and always have. I like meeting people on planes, in foreign countries, in cities I’m visiting for business. I like to hear the details of life, and as WEbook readers know, I like Good Stories most of all. Many of my best stories came from strangers. We are freer with one another, sometimes, to tell a good story. Especially if we know we’ll never see one another, again.
“You look like your case” said the stranger.
There are some sentences that seem innocent enough. And some just don’t.
I wanted to run away, but not before I’d secured my IPhone.
He handed it over, and I said, Can I give you the case, to thank you? Oh no, he said. It’s clearly yours. I don’t suppose you want $20? I asked. He was clearly prosperous. Successful, not nearly as in need of the $20 as I was. Or the many people who might have had my phone, who’d walked down the street before him.
Where are you going? he asked. And I who don’t drink beer, who have literally never bought beer in my life, said, I’m walking down the street to the supermarket. They sell cheap beer.
Thanks, I added, in a far more cursory way than I felt. HE RESCUED MY IPHONE AND GAVE IT BACK. Still, I left very quickly. Thinking to myself: At least this was a story. Maybe even a good one.”What about you, WEbook friends? What are your good stories this week?

Yours on the web,

Finding a Theme (Or Letting the Theme Find You)

Sanjay Bahadur, author of The Sound of Water, guest blogs about finding a theme for a novel -- or letting the theme find you. A bit of background about the book, and about Sanjay's process, which included getting feedback via the internet! 

The Sound of Water The Sound of Water provides an account of an Indian mining disaster as seen from three perspectives: an old miner struggling to save himself and his coworkers hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth; the company and government officials charged with managing the rescue efforts; and the miners' families anxiously awaiting word of survival or death.

While writing the book, the internet proved to be an effective resource for Sanjay. Not only did it strengthen his research but it enabled him to connect with some discerning readers whose suggestions improved the readability of the book. He also received technical guidance from mining engineers promptly through emails, including diagrams or process descriptions. Sanjay writes: “Writing can be a lonely process but internet ensured that I never lacked support or advice.”


As a first time author, the question posed to me most often is: So how did you choose the theme of The Sound of Water? To be frank, I think themes of novels are like taxmen. You don’t find them – they find you.

You may think I am debunking the art of writing and the ability of a writer to craft a good story. Well, I’m not. When a raw theme presents itself to a writer, she (or he – to retain the old world charm) still has to hammer, carve and chisel all her lumps of thoughts to fit that theme and make it presentable.

Imagine if the following “theme” were to strike me: A confused adolescent boy of 17-20 -- perhaps also prone to hallucinating -- gets it into his head that his father had been murdered. He sees ghosts, rants and raves about injustice in this world, takes out his anger on his hapless girlfriend, freaks out his close friends and hatches a wacko plot to take revenge. The plot hinges on performance of a weird play named, say, “The Murder of Gonzago” performed by some traveling drama company! It all ends in plenty of dead bodies, some killed by mistake, some deliberately and some in utter despair.

I don’t know about you, friend -- but I would probably make a mess of it. Or Hong Kong would have produced a B Grade karate flick called “Fist of Blood” or something. But it made “ye olde bard”, Shakespeare create Hamlet. See my point? The skill and presentation always matters. A theme grows like a kernel in the fertile soil of the writer’s imagination. It is how much love, care and attention it gets that makes it a sapling and eventually a flowering tree. All it takes is the courage to plant it -- on paper. Like babies, all themes are potentially great.

If that doesn’t sound convincing, let’s try out an open experiment here. Let any aspiring writer put down a theme that has grabbed her or his mind. Let it be just 10 sentences – or a single line. Plant it here, in this public space just so you know you have sowed your kernel in front of witnesses. If you really want to write a book, it will grow. In all probability, you would be the proud owner of a finished manuscript within the next 2-3 years.

Are there any disbelievers out there?


Sanjay Bahadur has a Masters degree in Economics from the University of Mumbai and a MBA from the University of Birmingham, UK.  He joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1989. During 2000-04 he worked as a Director in the Indian Ministry of Coal, which gave him the opportunity to observe mining operations and lives of miners at close quarters.

New York Times Bestselling author Joseph Finder is taking your questions…

In October, Ben Mezrich answered your questions on writing, inspiration and rejection, Joseph Finder is up next.

Joe, a bestselling thriller author and hailed as the “CEO of Suspense,” has published nine novels including the bestselling High Crimes which was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. He has recently sold two more bestselling novels to Hollywood and his latest thriller, Vanished, landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Vanished, published in August 2009, is the first book in a continuing series featuring corporate security specialist Nick Heller.

Joe was born in Chicago, but spent his childhood living around the world, including Afghanistan and the Philippines. At Yale, he majored in Russian studies and sang in the school’s legendary a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs. He completed his master’s degree at Harvard and was recruited by the CIA, but decided to write fiction instead.

Finder_vanished-1 For the next week (or so), you get to ask Joe questions in the comments area below. Ask anything! Ask about his process and his writing routine, his favorite song or his most embarrassing moment. For more question inspiration, check out Joe’s website and/or follow him on twitter.

Be creative. Joe is now listening…

Giving Thanks, Sharing Stories

Turkey-1 Happy Thanksgiving WEbookers! In the spirit of coming together and sharing, we invite you to write a short Thanksgiving story (in the comments section below) Fiction or non-fiction (you can leave it ambiguous, if you’d like), happy or sad, funny or serious, it’s up to you, as long as it is somehow related to family, friends and giving thanks.

To kick things off, I’m going to share an almost entirely true story about my family at Thanksgiving. Names have been changed to protect my dear relatives.

November 25, 2004—The Thankful Leaf

My family is a serious group. Almost all of them are doctors, lawyers, or finance professionals. Because of their serious jobs, they tend to have very serious conversations. There’s lots of talk about mergers and interests rates, Medicare and malpractice insurance, torts and depositions…

I have absolutely no frame of reference with which to join into any of these conversations, so over the years I’ve mastered appearing interested while actually having private day-dreams.

My Uncle Frank, on the other hand, has been unable to adopt this strategy. He makes jokes constantly (nobody laughs), starts conversations about racy things (which he carries on alone), and generally doesn’t fit in with the accepted tone of our dinners.

Even though we are a professional family, each year my sentimental aunt cuts leaves out of multi-colored construction paper and asks us to write what we are thankful for. Almost all of our entries have something to do with the undying love and support of family, the success of respective children in their educational endeavors, and overall happiness and well-being.

Uncle Frank thought otherwise this year. During the leaf-writing time, he planted himself next to my youngest cousin, Sally, and assisted her with the leaf. The time came to read them aloud. One by one each of us stood up, and shared with the family.

    “My son John’s early acceptance into law school,” Uncle George said proudly.

    “The fact that everyone got here safely to share this lovely dinner,” said Aunt Susan.

And around we went. When it came time for Sally to read her leaf, she boldly shot up from her chair, cleared her throat, and enunciated herself with stellar clarity:  “I am most thankful for the agreeable consistency of my morning bowel movements!”

There was a pause. Uncle Frank’s was trying not to burst out laughing. I wanted to maintain my face of concentration. Then, my grandfather let out a chuckle, and Sally’s father and mother, and before I knew it, the entire table was in an uproar, slapping each other’s backs and pounding the table. It was the most I’d ever heard my family laugh. Sally was beaming. Uncle Frank’s joke was a little inappropriate, but we all laughed together and I will always be thankful for that memory.

Ok, that’s it! Hope it stirred some ideas around. Feel free to share anything that comes to mind, and have a funny Thanksgiving!

-- Brian (the new WEbook intern)

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AgentInbox Success Story #1

Corey_1-1-1WEbooker and aspiring author Corey_Whaley (John Corey Whaley in the real world) submitted his YA novel to an agent through AgentInbox in October. In a few short days, one of our participating agents requested a full manuscript and by the end of the week, he had signed on with a prominent literary agent! Corey_Whaley, a middle school English teacher from Louisiana, wrote WEbook an email: "My life just changed." To find out more about this YA novelist, WEbook asked him a few random and not-so-random questions.

Corey_2-1 What was the inspiration for your novel? How long have you been working on it?
I originally came up with the idea for Good God Bird sometime in 2005 after hearing an interesting piece about the small town of Brinkley, Arkansas, on National Public Radio. The story was about the possible re-emergence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the woods near  the town, and included  interviews with townspeople as well as an original song composed in honor of the bird by singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens (which struck my original interest in the story). The story went through several phases over a two-year span after that. I re-worked it and re-worked it, but never got much done until the summer of 2007.  It was a few weeks after my first year of teaching public school English that I decided to finish the novel. With only  about 16 pages or so, I cranked out the rest of the novel in June and the first part of July of 2007. I wrote most of the novel on my laptop while camping at a lake in Arkansas.

What's the single most important thing you've learned as a writer?

I've learned to be patient and to let ideas come to me. I used to try and force myself to write, but now I just wait until I have one of those cathartic moments that forces me to drop everything and write. No more staring endlessly at flashing cursors for me.

What is the last argument you got into?
I had a small, silly argument over the pronunciation of cacophony the other night. We agreed to disagree.

How does writing fit into the rest of your life?
now, it's hard to find time to write because I teach middle school
English and have just recently started getting involved in community
theater here in town.  But, when I get a good idea, I try to fit in
time on nights and weekends. Sometimes, when I get especially stressed
at work, I will write things at my desk while my students are busy
working. It sometimes makes for good distraction therapy.

When life gets hectic, what are you most likely to let slide?

When life gets especially hectic, I will let laundry pile up to embarrassing heights.

What was the first story you ever wrote?
Corey_3-2 My
mother found this story --- we think it's from first grade. It was in my
handwriting and the teacher wrote "very good story" at the top.

"Dr. Raccoon"
Raccoon was a nice doctor.  But, one day, a red fox came in.  The red
fox was a nice fox, but one day he came in and said "Dr. Raccoon, 
Where are you?" Then, he saw a red sign that said "No Foxes."

Corey, a huge congratulations from WEbook! This journey will no doubt be unforgettable.

John Corey Whaley grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he began winning writing contests in high school. He earned a B.A. in English at Louisiana Tech University in 2006 and began teaching public school English later that year in his hometown. Whaley earned an M.A.T. in Secondary English Education in 2009 and currently teaches middle school English in Shreveport, Louisiana.You can follow Corey on Twitter @Corey_Whaley.

Watch Repair and Other Sources of Inspiration

Amywritinglife1.1Esther Cohen teaches Good Stories at Manhattanville College. She’s the author of 5 books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree. In previous columns, Esther has written about what makes a writer and how to get the words out.

The story of our life is not our life. It is our story.

Great to read about you on WEbook. I’m interested to know as much as I can about all of you, your stories, and your writing. Here’s mine:

I was late (I am rarely late. I don’t like to keep anyone waiting. But sometimes it’s inevitable. Subways, buses who knows what). It happened one day when I was to meet two women I’m doing some freelance writing for. I earn my living in many ways. Some of them involve words – not words that evoke necessarily (although evocation is something I’m always trying to do). Sometimes I just write Words for Hire. I was late, walking quickly, but not all that quickly, because I was wearing high heels for my appointment.
I was thinking about what I was handing in. Was it good enough? Would I have to rewrite it? How would the women – my clients – respond? They are young and unpredictable.
I was walking down Broadway, from my apartment in the 70’s, to 65th Street, where we’d planned our meeting. The women lived out of town. I was behind two friends, a woman and man, in their late twenties or early thirties. They were both very thin – a little too thin, actually. Too thin makes me nervous. I have never been too thin. And never will be, either. I’m just not a thin type.
The woman said to her friend (they were both dressed in black. Not just any black, but black trendy – tight and new and asymmetrical in a way I knew meant Now). “I can’t believe he’s another married man with a wife named Sandra. There must be hundreds. Maybe even thousands. Who knows. Maybe there are a million married men with Sandra wives.”
When she said that, I immediately started thinking of a story to write. One woman, her lovers, and all their Sandra wives.
Someone else said to me, years ago at a party – I was in the Village, and the host was a man I did not know well, a playwright type, although he could have been an actor or a scenery painter. He had that theater-y personality. Why do so many of us look like what we do? I’ve wondered that for years.  An attractive woman, my age more or less, introduced herself to me. She had the ease of someone who introduced herself often and well to all those around her. I imagined her walking through the bus, shaking hands with strangers. Her first sentence was a memorable one: I’ve been with seven Sams. I saved this sentence in my forever folder, thinking: What a title. What a Story. What an art exhibit: Pictures of All My Sams.
Maybe Sams and Sandras is the title I’ll use, one day.
Later in the week, I went to 47th Street to have the crystal on my husband’s watch replaced. I’d borrowed his vintage watch one day, in order to look more official (why the vintage watch looks more official than my Swatch I’m not sure. But it does.) The crystal broke the day I wore it. I’m not sure how. It just did.
My friend Marion used to sell jewelry on 47th street. She told me that the watch makers there are masters, although she didn’t have a specific recommendation. I looked online to find out where to go, and wrote out a list of half a dozen. (Imagine a block anywhere in the world with half a dozen watch repairmen. They were all men. It seems to be a man’s job, even now.)
The block itself is from another time, another place. It’s all jewelry – diamonds, watches, earrings, rings. Immigrant men from all around the world are standing in the street, entreating every single passerby to sell their gold, or buy it. It’s like being in a foreign country somewhere – Hong Kong or Marrekesh, maybe – and not New York City in 2009. I visited many watchmakers, just to see them. They were born all over the world. In the end, I settled on Rafael, from Tajikistan. He made his own tools – beautiful wooden knobs of all shapes and sizes, with long metal points of every possible width and length. There’s not a watch that exists, he said, that he couldn’t fix. It so happens that I had a drawer full of broken watches. Don’t ask me why. I buy them at flea markets for their beautiful faces, intending one day to find someone like Rafael. Now all the watches in my drawer work. And Rafael’s story (famous rabbi father, seven brothers, his curved path to learning about watches, and life) reminded me of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. One of my favorite authors. Now maybe I’m the one who’ll write Rafael’s story…
Tell me about your week. I wait to hear.

Here's a second poem for inspiration:

You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand—
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water...




Best Selling Author Ben Mezrich Answers Your Questions - PART 2!

BenMezrichCTracyAiguier1-2 We posted the first set of responses from Ben Mezrich last week. Following is the second and final Q&A (unless all of you come up with more fascinating questions!) Special thanks to Ben for answering so many of our questions.

Quick recap for first time readers: Ben (@BenMezrich) is the author of eleven books. His bestsellers include Bringing Down the House, a true story about
M.I.T. students who swindled a series of Vegas casinos out of millions by counting cards and most recently The Accidental Billionaires about, as the subtitle explains, The Founding of Facebook a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal.

Accidental Billionaires Cover I look at someone like yourself who has been rejected 190 times and think that getting published is probably not likely. --ERNEST DEMSEY

Rejection is a noble part of the game. There’s nothing wrong with being rejected, you need to embrace it and use it as fuel. Every great writer out there has been rejected countless times. It’s a tough, tough business, but if you’re good, and you work your ass off, you can get published. 

Do you still not drive and dislike flying, and why? Why do you also need to have a magazine open to a person with a "happy face?" --MERLE GORNICK

I drive now, but not very far! I’ve grown ok with flying, I do my magic rituals like staring at a happy face in a magazine on take-off and landing, and it seems to work! I haven’t crashed yet!

What 3 authors, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with and why? --ZOE

Michael Crichton, because I really wanted to be him for the first half
of my career; Hunter S Thompson, because it would be a blast and I want
desperately to be him now, in the second half of my career. And Scott
Stossel, of the Atlantic Monthly, because he owes me a dinner.

After your considerable success, how do you keep it real? Do you ever worry about losing your edge? Do you do stuff to try to re-capture your hunger from your days when you struggled? And how do you find new ideas to write about? Do you actively search for stuff or do new ideas just sort of arrive?

Ideas show up on my website or twitter or wherever, people come to me now. The key is searching through all the ideas and finding one that really turns me on. I don’t worry about losing my edge because I am pretty insane and have always lived vicariously through the stories I hear- so it’s not really my edge, it’s the edge of the people I write about. And there is no shortage of great stories!

Bringing_down_the_house You've written alot, and I was wondering how you found the inspiration to keep on writting? I write and write, but I tend to lose focus, do have any ways to keep focus? --MARGARITA CRUZ

It’s really an obsession for me. Focus has never been my problem- I can watch television for 40 straight hours, and I can write for 40 hours. The key is to make sure that what you are writing is something that someone else will want to read!

Have you ever had writer's block, and/or how did you recover from it? --ANONYMOUS

Yes and no. Writer’s block, for me, isn’t sitting there trying to write. It’s spending a month watching tv and going out and basically blowing off work. The key is to get excited about a project, and that all goes away.

Coming up in November: More bestselling authors on the blog. Get your questions ready!

Bestselling Author Ben Mezrich Answers Your Questions…

Bestselling Author, Ben MezrichFor the last two weeks, bestselling author Ben Mezrich has been reading your questions. He answered so many (thanks Ben!) that we are going to split his responses into two posts, one this week (now) and one next week. Find out what book Ben recommends, where (and when) he writes, and what "turns him on" (when it comes to what he likes to write about!). Take it away Ben...

I lack inspiration sitting at a computer I much prefer to write old style pen and paper in the corner of a coffee shop gives me a chance to people watch! How and where do you write? --SOMEBODY BEAR

I write in my writing cave, usually late at night but sometimes early in the morning. When I’m deep into a book I’ll write all night, starting at around 11 pm through 9 or 10 in the morning. I get into a deep state of trance, almost, and can write for days on end. I kind of fall apart physically.

I was wondering how you know that you're a good writer? I guess I'm asking how I can get my self esteem up to keep writing and not give up on any specific idea? --SARAH

Accidental Billionaires Cover Yes, you have to have a lot of confidence in yourself when you’re
starting out, because everyone around you will be skeptical, and you’ll
also feel like you’re being judged when you finally submit things to
publishers. You have to believe that this is what you do, this is all
that want to do, and this is something you can do better than anyone

there room for uncompromised natural writing styles - say for instance
that which is rich in detail and digression - perhaps even pushing a
few ‘prison yard’ boundaries? Or these days, would you say minimalist
instant gratification?

Whoah, that’s a pretty intense question. There is always room for
pushing boundaries- but there’s also something to be said for instant
gratification! I will say that as a first time writer, breaking in by
pushing boundaries is much more difficult than breaking in with
something people are comfortable with.

Are there some things that you could point to in your rejected projects that I should avoid? Would you say it was the topic, dialogue, plot, writing style, etc.? --ERNEST DEMPSEY

Yes, unless it’s memoir, try and avoid the first person, it kind of screams “first novel”. There are some great books on writing -- I’d pick up Albert Zuckerman’s book on writing thrillers. Every book, at its heart, has to follow the rules of thrillers, the three act system, etc.

Are you still a "hypochondriac?" Photos of you and the Bugman tell me that perhaps, times have changed.--MERLE GORNICK

 Hah, I am a hypochondriac but it’s under control. I still wash my hands 15 times a day and avoid plenty of things I think will get me sick. But nowadays, with swine flu, everyone is OCD and it’s cool. 

Rigged Book Cover It looks like you spent your early writing years concentrating on fiction, but later made a comfortable home in the non-fiction genre. What caused you to make the switch? And after “Bringing Down the House,” what was it about writing non-fiction that has kept you going for four more books? Do you still write/ plan on publishing more fiction in the future? --MATT

I love these true, wild stories that I write now, about young people
doing wild things and making fortunes. I switched because I ran into
these MIT kids in a bar and they invited me along for the ride. Now I
feel like this is my voice, what I want to write. I’ll probably do
fiction here and there, but the true stories turn me on.

Bringing_down_the_house I heard somewhere that you first met some members of the MIT blackjack team in a Boston bar, which led to your book, “Bringing Down the House.” Is that true? If so, how did your interaction with them make you decide it would be worthwhile to write a book about them? --ANNE

Yes, true. I met them at Crossroads, an MIT dive bar on the river. These were geeky, math science guys with way too much money, all of it in hundred dollar bills. I had to follow them to Vegas. The rest, as they say, is history!!!

The second set of answers is live! Keep reading...

Ben Mezrich (@BenMezrich) is the author of eleven books, including
six novels and five non-fiction titles. His bestsellers include
Bringing Down the House, a true story about a group of M.I.T. students
who swindled a series of Vegas casinos out of millions by counting
cards (the movie version was called “21”) and most recently The
Accidental Billionaires:
The Founding of Facebook, a tale of Sex,
Money, Genius and Betrayal.


Poets and Writers: First Sentence Excerpts

PWlogosmall-2-1-2_smallThere are few things as compelling as the first sentence of a great book. When done well, its power is absolute: it virtually commands you to read on, to invest in the story, to search for more clues about the characters, the setting, the conflict.

For many aspiring writers, the first sentence of their first serious novel can be a kind of torture. You know it’s hugely important, but you also have a full story to tell. So what do you do? You tear through your bookcase, yanking out your favorite tomes to see again how they begin, hoping upon hope that inspiration will arrive in the process.

Now, thanks to a content partnership with Poets & Writers (the organization, which publishes the magazine), you can get your inspiration delivered to you monthly right here. Page One, a regular feature in Poets & Writers magazine, presents a smattering of first sentences from newly released books. Here’s a quick selection:

  • "Val Carmichael credited Pete Stenning—who was always called ‘the Martian'—with getting him off the gin and on to the vodka." Liver: A Fictional Organ With a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes (Bloomsbury, November 2009) by Will Self.

  • "I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967." Invisible (Henry Holt, November 2009) by Paul Auster.

  • “In the beginning, Drago smelled of dirt and bloom, the odor that would rise if you peeled the earth back at its seams." Thirsty (Swallow Press, October 2009) by Kristin Bair O'Keeffe.

Check out more at Poets & Writers, then add your favorite—from books new or old—in the comments area below to help inspire your fellow WEbookers.


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Bestselling Author Ben Mezrich is Now Listening…

BenMezrichCTracyAiguier[1] Ben Mezrich is the author of eleven books, including six novels and five non-fiction titles. He’s been writing — not always successfully — since he left college and allegedly still keeps all 192 of the rejections he received pinned on the wall in his writing den. But Ben kept at it and success came. He sold a few novels then finally hit it VERY big with Bringing Down the House, a true story about a group of M.I.T. students who swindled a series of Vegas casinos out of millions by counting cards (the movie version was called “21”). The book sold over two million copies in twelve languages. Most recently, Ben published The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, which spent 12 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Now, here’s where you come in. For the next week (or so), you get to ask Ben questions Accidental Billionaires Cover_smallin the comments area below. About what? Well, anything, but Ben is a working writer who struggled to make it at first — like so many others — so maybe start there. In any case, Ben will pick the questions he finds the most compelling and answer them, Q&A style. If the questions are really good (or quirky or straight bizarre), maybe they’ll even be two parts to the Q&A. It all depends on you, the asker. Want to know a little more about Ben, to fine-tune your questions? He wrote a piece for the Boston Globe a while back that details how he got his start in writing.

So ask away. Ben is now listening...


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The Hard (but Fun) Part: Getting the Words Out


Continuing this week, Esther Cohen, author of five books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree,
will be contributing her new column entitled “My Writing Life.” In it, she'll be discussing everything and anything involved with the writing life...which pretty much includes everything and anything. Last week, she wrote about what makes a writer

“A story has no beginning or end: one arbitrarily chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

--Graham Greene       

Thank you all for writing to me last week. And for sending me your always interesting stories. I’ve been thinking about you and me all week: how we can help one another to write it all down, to tell the stories we all deserve to hear.

Telling stories is wonderful, and hard. If we are the creative types (and it seems like the people on WEbook fall into this category – at least the people are who I’ve met online this past week), we probably don’t know the story until we begin to tell it. We might know a few details of the characters lives: like, he was much too thin; her voice was gravelly and unpleasant; they never liked one another much, although they’d been married for years; her work was hard; she took care of sick elderly people. But she loved it; nearly as much as she’d loved her first husband, remarried the fourth time. Still living in Trinidad.

That we write it down, and how, is what we’re going to try to do together. Here’s a little about how I do it:

I’m sitting now in an actual writing room, in a library not far from my apartment. Many people are here with me. They all look anxious. Some seem as though they are writing interesting sentences, though it’s always hard to tell. You can’t tell just by looking at the writers what they’re actually writing. It’s possible to find out, if you have the patience. A woman near me holds what appears to be l,000 index cards. They are in light colors -- yellow, purple, blue, green, Dentyne red. Her system of paper clips is equally elaborate. She looks as if she’s turned OCD into an amazing art form. I have always admired organized people. I write on everything. Once, I had a paper bag full of poems. A roommate thought, she said later when she explained why she threw out the bag, that my poems were just scraps. I’d even written one along the outside of a white paper cup, a poem for drinks: cold hot, and luke. “I think/ I’ll have/a paper cup drink.” My roommate, a chanting Buddhist from Kansas City named Kelly, often cleaned up. For years, I imaged that my poems burned, and entered the clouds where my words spread out in a way they couldn’t have if chanting Kelly hadn’t made her mistake.

My real-life apartment, where I have lived for more than half my life, is rent-stabilized. In New York that sentence is equivalent to another: I will NEVER move. I can’t because I can actually afford my rent. Had I known I would live in my apartment forever, I would have chosen a larger apartment. But I didn’t know that. Not then.

I was in my 20’s. My friend Emily and I looked at nearly l00 apartments. Yes, there were that many apartments then. And I have always loved walking into other people’s lives, and the excuse to do just that: to see their coffee mugs, their books, their pens, all the details that they’d chosen to surround them, to accompany them, to be there with them while they lived. We found the apartment where I still live, over 30 years later, on a block that was called iffy by those people who knew about blocks. A couple lived here before me, with their daughter. Their taste was more or less opposite to mine: they had a bright gold shag rug, many mirrors, a neat couch tightly covered with see through plastic. The word for their space was clean.

My central criteria then, before I knew anything about what to look for in a home, was that the shadows in my bedroom crossed in the corners. How I came up with that as a criteria I actually don’t remember. But I had an idea that I wanted to sleep in a room with crossing shadows. I’d probably seen one once. The couple worked in a liquor store down the street. Their daughter was going into high school. They decided, they told us (Emily and I were dressed in gold and silver) that this was not a good place to raise a child. They were moving to Florida, and buying a Carvel concession. They would sell us their perfect couch for $25.00.

We took the apartment. We asked the super to remove the rug and the mirrors and the plastic covering from the couch. (He kept all three.) The couch was the oddest color of green: kind of pea soupy. Over the years hundreds of people stayed on that couch. That couch became their temporary home. I often thought the neat couple of origin would have been wildly unhappy to know what their space had become. (I think their name was Clark. Maybe not.) My building itself is so many stories: my first neighbor, Mrs. Israel, who confessed to me the week before she died that there had never been a Mr. Israel (she always said he died); the beautiful woman from Columbia who was actually a prostitute, and who counted a few famous men among her clientele; my friend Richard who suggested, nearly 30 years ago, that we have a secret building newsletter that we distribute to every other apartment, just to see if we’d get a reaction.

I promised you all a weekly poem. Here’s one, from a recent book I published about getting older, called God is a Tree.

Everyone is
And thinner
Than I am.
So what
So what
So what


Now it’s time for you to tell me your stories. Can you tell me something about who you are? Where would you like to begin that particular story? I’m very happy to be here with all of you, and anxiously await all you have to say.

Yours in Words,

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The Fun Part: Choosing an Agent


Greetings WEbook. Sorry to be gone so long. I was on vacation and it‘s been hard getting back into the swing of things. But I haven’t forgotten where we left off … so far, I’ve written about why writers need agents and how you can find an agent who might be simpatico to both you and your work. We’re now going to take a small leap and suppose that you have sent your beautifully crafted query letters out to a bunch of agents and you got great responses from some of them, all of whom have now read your novel. Now, several of THOSE have called and left messages saying they love your work and would very much like to represent you. First thought: OMG!  Second thought: Holy shit! Now what? How do I decide between these guys?

We should all have such problems, right? Well, while it CAN be tricky, there are a few things you can think about in order to guide you to a good decision.

First, return the calls. Immediately. One by one. Listen carefully to what each agent has to say and start asking him/her questions about your novel, the working relationship you’d have together, the process of getting the manuscript to publishers, and anything else that comes to mind.

Here’s a quick laundry list:

  • What does she like about your novel?

  • Why did she pick yours out of all the submissions she must get?

  • Does she think your novel needs work?

  • Will she be providing extensive notes for revisions?

  • When will she get those to you?

  • Will she read it again after you have revised?

  • What if she thinks it still needs work then?

  • Does she have a submission plan?

  • Which imprints/editors would she approach?

  • Will she send the manuscript out widely to many editors at once, or to a smaller, more selective group? Why?

  • Does she have a sense of timing? Is timing important?

  • Has she thought about the kind of advance he might get you?

  • What is the commission structure? [Correct answer: 15% is the norm on all domestic sales; 20% for foreign sales.]

  • Does she handle foreign/translation rights, or does she work with sub-agents? Or would she expect the publisher to do that? Why?

  • Should you expect to have any out of pocket expenses? [Correct answer: no.]

  • Are there any hidden charges involved in working together? [Correct answer: no.]

  • How does she make payments to you once a deal with a publisher is made?

  • Does she or her agency have a standard author agreement?

  • Are parts of that agreement negotiable?

Then, get her to talk a little bit about herself and how she actually works. Draw her out. Who are some of her other clients? Will she be generally available to you when you have questions? Will she keep you informed of the submission process along the way? And how will she do that? How involved will she be after he has sold your book? Does she prefer communicating by phone or email? Even ask her questions about her own reading habits.

Finally, ask her some basic questions about the book publishing business. After all, you want a sense that she is experienced and knowledgeable, and knows her way around, don’t you?  Ask her about the marketplace. If your work is literary fiction, get her to tell you about other literary novels that are selling and being published now. We all know the publishing industry is in a state of flux. Does she feel optimistic about the future of book publishing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small publisher vs. a large one? Ask her about things like the Google settlement, the rise of e-books, and her opinion about the Kindle vs. the Sony Reader. 

The point is, ask lots of questions like these, and really listen…  And then say thank you for her time, you’re very excited at the prospect of working with her, but that you would like to think about it all for a day or two. Then make the call to the next agent, and the next. When you’re done with the calls, you have to decide. And, frankly, your decision will mostly depend on instinct, because there really is no right or wrong answer for most of the questions you’ve asked (except for the basic business questions, of course). Bottom line: you ultimately want a good rapport with your agent. You need to like her. You need to trust her. You need to have faith in her style and taste and openness. You need to feel you have a partner. She is someone you will, with any luck, have a relationship with for many years. So, it’s got to FEEL right. If you have asked a lot of questions like these, and if you have LISTENED, chances are you will find this decision pretty easy to make. Trust your instincts.

Next? Sleep on it. When you wake up, think about it for a half hour and then call the agent you have decided on and tell her how friggin’ excited you are that he wants to work with you and that you are thrilled and yes, yes, yes…

Congratulations. You have yourself an agent. You are on your way!


Ken Wright is an agent at Writers House, a leading NYC-based literary agency with a wide
range of bestselling and award-winning authors
. Read more of Ken's columns.

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New on the WEbook Blog: Esther Cohen and “My Writing Life”


Starting this week, Esther Cohen, author of five books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree, will be contributing a new column entitled “My Writing Life.” In it, Esther will discuss any and everything that goes with a writing life … which pretty much means any and everything, period. Most importantly, Esther will take questions, so please, don't be shy.

I am glad to be here with you on WEbook. Because we are all in the virtual sphere, I am free to describe myself any way I like: taller or shorter, younger or wiser. My hair can be long and straight, even black (it is actually short and wildly curly, usually yellowish red, depending on the month and the year.) I am a writer and a teacher, a poet, a novelist, a humorist. My words come in many forms. I’ve published five books, and hope to write many more. I’m here on this site to describe my writing life, and to help you with yours.

I have always loved putting words right onto a page, watching them the way some people watch movies. My words are often parts of pictures: deep orange-yellow cantaloupes, a midget in a pin striped suit. I collect words the way some people collect stamps. For instance, here are some names of hair-cutting places from my beauty parlor notebook: Hair We Are, Hair-Em Salon, Shear Creations, Hairy Situations, Split Enz, A Cut Above. I’ve always loved words and what they can do.

Even so, I’ve wondered (although I have been writing as long as I can remember) if I am a real writer. It took me years (and years) to understand that real writers just write. That’s more or less what being a writer means. Whether the story or poem or memoir she writes is worthy or clever or interesting or good is another matter entirely. We learn to be some of those things, through practice. The way athletes practice, and musicians. We practice writing often, in any way that we can. I write words down when I hear them, fragments, overheard conversations, knowing maybe I’ll use a line or a phrase one day. Maybe I won’t. But it doesn’t matter. What counts is writing it down. (At Viand Coffee shop yesterday the woman sitting next to me, a stranger in a bright red dress, said to the patient Dominican waitress, “I’d like a fried egg without any yolk.” Both the waitress and I wondered why. Cholesterol? Religion? Maybe the red dressed woman didn’t like yellow. The fragment seemed worth recording.)

Writing is always about stories, and stories need interesting details. Good Stories is the subject of a class I’m teaching this fall, at Manhattanville College. We will, together, try to uncover the elements of a good story and what we need to tell them.

Here’s my good story of the week, in a poem.
Ken lives across the street
Old style pre hip hop
You’re in the navy now tattoo
Chain smoker one cigarette
In back of his right ear
At all times Ken
I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

Now something of Hilda
is inside Ken and when he
comes over every single afternoon
around four
even though he didn’t come
across the road for 22 years,
he walks over as though
he always has and it’s ok with me
because I see Hilda inside Ken
and when he tells his long
long story about his baking truck
and Brooklyn I can see Hilda
and she’s smiling.

I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

That’s my good story for today. Can you send me yours?
Or tell us what you think a good story might mean?
Can’t wait to hear from you.

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