Monday, August 31, 2009

craigslist: the hot new place to query

INTERN was, er, investing time on craigslist this morning when she found this post:

"I have written three non-fiction books which have best seller potential. Yes, you've heard that before, but if we dialogue I think you will agree. However, I am not a writer, but simply had something important to say. Therefore, I am not familiar with the usual query/submision proceedure and the books are time critical enough, that it doesn't seem prudent to wade through the normal publishing channels."

No, it is certainly not prudent to wade through the normal publishing channels when your idea is so critical you have it on craiglist and...hope an agent will want to schedule a "random encounter" with you?

As if that one wasn't cool enough, craigslist querying is apparently becoming a trend (or the same person is doing it over and over again) (or the INTERN just didn't know about it until now):

"Compelling children's picture book dealing with death needs a good literary agent to represent it and get it published. This is a story that provides a thoughtful, meaningful explanation about what happens when a child dies and goes to heaven, using words that are reassuring, loving and helpful to small children struggling with the idea of death. I want to get this book published and the topic is sensitive such that many publishers won't touch it. Thanks."

Dear Agent: Nobody wants to touch my book. So clearly you will want to take it on as a project. Thanks.

Come on, agents! Who's going to step up to the plate? Huh?

That is all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

F&M Week Day 7: Memoir Kerfuffle

INTERN was late getting to the Big Old Fancy Publishing Office today due to a combination of shoelace-caught-in-gears, helpful-but-insane-shoelace-caught-in-gears-incident-bystander, and a band of renegade, stepford-esque free granola bar sample giver-outers standing on the corner: "Take a bunch. They're free! THEY'RE FREE!"

Now INTERN is sitting at her usual spot on the red couch, wiping the bicycle grease off her leg with a napkin, listening to the classical music coming from Head Ed's computer speakers, and thinking about the one big nagging problem of memoirs.

The one big nagging problem of memoirs is that many would-be memoirists assume that a memoir is a story where the writer already knows what happens.

Yet in order for a memoir to be good, this cannot be true.

Consider a classical pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. The crummy pianist will merely play the sonata from memory—after all, she's been playing the sonata for years, and she *obviously* knows what's going to happen from note to note and movement to movement. And the listener's like, "So what? So you played a bunch of notes. Time for a grilled cheese sandwich."

The brilliant pianist—the really insano, genius pianist—discovers the sonata as she plays it. There are no foregone conclusions or premeditated moods. New things emerge, unusual, beautiful, canted-angle stuff. Insights and revelations come scurrying out of the music like ferrets. All who listen are Moved and Shaken. All grilled-cheese sandwiches are forgotten (except by INTERN, who is getting hungry).

You stifle your memoir in the grave when you consider it a passive account of things past rather than an active, completely new and surprising encounter with the music/your fascinating life. It's possible to know exactly what's coming, and still have a scene/character/entire book be new and unusual and awesome and completely uncanned.

In a nutshell:

Writing to tell what happened = less potential for greatness.
Writing to discover what happened (even when you technically know what happened) = more potential for greatness.

Same goes for fiction.

Someone just brought banana bread into the office, so INTERN has...urgent business to attend to. Grawr!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

today, publishers lunch is driving INTERN insane

Deal News
"Dovey-Lou Supreme's ALL-PURPOSE WAFFLE, pitched as Infinite Jest meets Everybody Poops, in a deal so awesome it makes other deals look like chain beatings rather than actual deals, in a three-book deal, to HarperCollins, with foreign rights to every country in the UN, and extraterrestrial rights on Betelgeuse and Pluto. For now."


Monday, August 24, 2009

F&M Week Day 6: Annihilating the Arbitrary

Maybe INTERN is just hungry, but more and more YA and MG query letters in The Pile are reading like those build-your-own pizza forms where you check off what kind of Cheese and Sauce and Crust you want—except instead of Cheese and Sauce and Crust, the checkboxes pertain to Tough Issues, Wackiness, and Diversity.

Example: "My 30,000 word middle-grade novel 'Across the Rainbow' is a multi-faith tale of intercultural understanding that spans generations. Hildegarde Ho, 12, must confront her second cousin's alcoholism while dealing with her own crack cocaine addiction, all while trying to attract the amorous attention of her hilarious, be-froed, penguin-catching next-door neighbor Mohammad Jones, whose Catholic mother tries to keep the pair apart until they triumph over adversidy [sic] with hilarious results. As the school talent show approaches, they must train the penguins to mambo—before it's too late."

Repeat, substituting "missing father," "wisecracking mailman," and "Hindu-Vampire Relations".

It all feels kind of...arbitrary. And fiction is antithetical to arbitrariness. Fiction's like a spider web—each thread belongs to the whole and has some essential function. Spiders don't go around pimping their webs with ghastly and unnecessary props that do nothing to help them catch the fly. Neither should fiction. Not saying fiction should be utilitarian or strictly weblike, but come on—is there a valid *reason* that spiderweb is full of penguins?

In particular, INTERN has noticed the following Arbitrary Things popping up again and again:

1. The Whack-a-Mole Effect
Zany, off-the-wall characters who pop up unannounced and disappear into the ether after delivering their one-liner. Ditto villains who just—keep—appearing with no logical or even illogical explanation as to what prompted them to be in that *convenient* place at that time. INTERN calls this the whack-a-mole effect, because it makes her want to whack these characters in the skull with a mallet whenever they show up.

2. The Issue Dump
The book's been rolling along just fine—the talent show is approaching, the inter-faith tension is mounting—then it's like the author thought, "oh sh%t, I forgot to have a Tough Issue!" and there's an awkward scene where one character suddenly feels the need to confess to having Terminal Cancer or Mean Parents. A tearful speech ensues. Then it's back to business.

3. Arbitrary Events
Q: "Wouldn't it be hilarious if there was a scene where the wise-cracking mailman showed up riding a cow? No, I mean, no, he doesn't have motivation, it would just be funny."
A: No.

4. The Prop Dump

The book's been rolling along just fine—the penguins are onstage, the villain is writhing in his bounds—and then it's like the author thought, "oh sh%t, I forgot to have a message of Diversity!". And then suddenly the villain is wearing a yarmulke and a Hawaiian shirt, and the penguins are in wheelchairs, and the main character's grandfather takes off his cardigan to reveal a gay pride t-shirt. Cathartic speeches ensue, briefly. Then the props are mysteriously abandoned and it's back to business.


In other news: the pancake recipe INTERN was using last night called for "non-fact cooking spray". That is kind of awesome.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

F&M Week Day 5: Does This Count As Assault?

This morning on the train, a droopy-eyed INTERN clutching her bicycle with one hand and the overhead hangy-thing with the other was accosted by a Belligerent Self-Published Children's Author and held hostage for a full fifteen minutes that probably left a liftetime of psychological scarring.

BSPCA: Cute jacket.
INTERN: Thanks.
BSPCA: I'm a children's book author. I'm on a book tour.
INTERN: Cool! Oh, neat! What's your book called? Who's your publisher? I intern at a publishing house.
BSPCA: (dark shadow falling over steely grin) It's called "Mystic Horizons of Gaia." It's self-published.
INTERN: Oh. Cool.
BSPCA: I never really considered getting it published through the usual channels. Do you know that most print runs for children's books are like 5,000 books? And then you only get 7.5% of the retail price? And publishers don't want to take on full-color books because they're expensive to produce, and then there are all these short, ADD books in schools and they wonder why kids have bad attention spans? And publishers are afraid of taking on anything with a spiritual message?
INTERN: Man, you know a lot about mainstream publishing.
BSPCA: (hollow stare) Listen. I want to sell 100,000 copies a year. Not 5,000. And I'm doing it. My full-time job now is selling my books. I've already moved 35,000 copies this year. I have a program on my computer that finds the e-mail addresses of all the school librarians and e-mails them to set up readings in elementary schools. I sell the books for $18 each, and I make $15 profit on each book.
INTERN: Damn, girl.
BSPCA: Traditional publishing is evil. I don't know why anyone would want their book to go through those leeches.
INTERN: It's certainly a complex question.
BSPCA: (breathing down INTERN's neck) So you work for a publisher?
INTERN: (nods).
BSPCA: (taking out two gigantic hardcover, full-color books complete with comic sans font and computer-generated rainbow-fill line drawings and pressing them into INTERN's thoracic cavity) You should take these into work with you. Show them all what they're missing. My book teaches children the importance of love and clean water.
INTERN (winded). Gack!
BSPCA: Want me to sign them for you?

The books in question are now sitting on INTERN's desk, within eyeshot at this very moment. She is afraid to touch them.

INTERN is confused as to what this exchange reveals about self-publishing. On the one hand, here's a person who managed to single-handedly sell 35,000 copies of a children's book without the support of a publisher or publicist. On the other hand, it's 35,000 copies of an atrocious book. Is this a success story or a horror story? Are children everywhere being moved to spiritual ecstasy by the story of Gaia and her gradient-happy mystical horizons, as the back-cover copy suggests? Is the BSPCA a successful author, or just a successful huckster?

And who are these people who spend $18 on a drippy, moralizing, adverb-ridden self-published book when there are so many quality children's books out there?

Maybe more children's book authors need to spend time riding commuter trains.

Monday, August 17, 2009

F&M Week Days 3+4: Making $ While-U-Wait

Lately, INTERN's landlord has been approaching INTERN at funny times of day to talk about his elderly mother's collection of short stories, journal entries, and drawings, which he wants to get published so he can use the subsequent windfall to send his mother on a tropical vacation. "I figure maybe Hawai'i? Bermuda? Somewhere she can sit on the beach for a couple weeks? D'you think I'll get enough to send her on a cruise? I figure it's time to get them published now, so she can go this winter."

*Smile and nod, while heart breaks into neon tongues of compassion and sorrow*

If you really want to make money writing fiction—fast money, not long, drawn-out, hypothetical advance money or the lime green, money-esque "money" cash-strapped literary journals have taken to sending instead of cheques—there are two options INTERN can recommend. Option A is for the bold. Option B is for the polyglottal.

Here's how it goes:

Step 1: Get a paying job that involves lots of downtime, like night shift at a hotel switchboard or tropical fish-sitting. This is crucial, because you will obviously spend this time writing but you will already be getting paid $15/hour to do it, which will bump up your hourly "writing salary" to $45-60/hour.

Step 2: (Option A) Write erotica. Shazam! Erotica pays faster and better than any other fiction market INTERN has ever dabbled in, and it's great writing practice to boot. Erotica websites pay $30-50 for a 1,500-2,000 word story which, if you're good and caffeinated, you can bust out in a little over an hour. OK, maybe two hours. Websites pay within days, not six months later when you've changed addresses and have completely forgotten that the Bumbleprick Cove Extremely Selective Review of Linear-Only Literature even exists. Plus, they publish on a daily, not quarterly basis, so you can submit as many times as you want. INTERN hits up a certain for-women-only website whenever the electricity bill is due (under a hott pseudonym of course) and has never been let down yet.

This is not to say that writing erotica is easy or should be treated lightly—it's a very intelligent, respectable genre, and you can't get away with sloppy writing. The fact that it's a well-paying market indicates that it's also a competitive one, and like any other genre, you need to bring the goods. Erotica forces you to become a master of the "show, don't tell" rule, and a wizard of suspense. And if your writing has become at all cowardly or shallow, writing erotica forces you to take risks: if your heart isn't pounding as you write it, you haven't gone far enough. Plus, there's no feeling more bad-ass than getting $$ on paypal from an editor called "Tina McNaughty" and feeling like some kind of wicked star.

Check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association for writing resources and calls for submissions. They're da bomb.

P.S. If anyone thinks the short story form is dead, go attend an erotica reading in New York or San Francisco. Standing. Room. Only.

Option B: Do literary translation.

Another great way to make $ writing while you're waiting for that book deal to come through involves foreign tongues (ha!) of another sort. If you're fluent in a second language, translation pays extremely well, is fun and interesting, and can be done from home (or preferably, work). Plus, if your brain is fried from writing your novel, it's a nice break to work with somebody else's words for a change while still using your creativity. Translation clients are always absurdly thankful for your work, as if deciphering their novel/poems/memoir/letters was a great miracle. And, like writing erotica, doing translation benefits you in more ways than $$. It makes you more attuned to the subtle beauties lurking in individual sentences, and more conscious of the hundreds of tiny choices writers make with every word. Then when you go back and work on your own novel or memoir, you'll be more conscious of those things in your writing. Ba-da-bing!


INTERN can hardly tell her bearded, U-S-American, Christian rock-loving landlord to go write a porno or translate a porno or whatever, if he really wants to make cruisin' $$ in time for x-mas. But there you go.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

F&M Week Day Two: Truth and Stuff

INTERN was going to get started right away talking about the role of truth in fiction, but last night INTERN's roommate dragged her to a crowded open mic and bought her a beer, and several woozy fiction-related revelations ensued relating to music.

So: music it is.

The first person to play at this open mic was this skinny sixteen-year old kid with a guitar that weighed more than he did, and when he took the stage there was this frisson through the mostly 20-something audience, tangible hope that this unsullied young child-master would pull enlightenment down from the heavens and blow everyone's dome. He was young enough to speak truth. Watching him tune his axe was terrifying and nerve-wracking. Would he bring it?

Unfortunately, speaking truth is exactly what he did. To the tune of a seven-minute, structureless, vaguely melodic monologue about how he had a crush on this girl (Name: Cassie. Age: 16. Favorite band: Fall-out Boy. Baseline Facial Expression: Cruel but so beautiful at the same time) and she didn't notice him standing behind her at the beach (Weather: Sunny, in a cruel kind of way. User demographic: Beautiful but cruel teenage girls) and then he rode home on his bike and cried in the basement thought about how sad his parents' lives were ("They just watch TV shows all the time while eating cheetos"), and had the life-changing realization that he would never love anyone else, even after the summer was over and they started 11th grade (State of singer's Heart: Torn into a million shards).

It was all completely true. But that didn't make the song meaningful, or interesting, or even tolerable to listen to. Hm.

The next guy who played was a little older, had facial hair, and wore the wool sweater/scruffy clamdigger combo favored by hipsters everywhere.

His song was about how he wanted to be a buffalo.

The basic premise of the song was the same—boy likes girl, girl doesn't notice boy—but instead of narrating the whole #^$%@ experience blow-by-blow, he just took the emotional truth of the situation and applied it to an imaginary situation, i.e. becoming a buffalo.

INTERN spent the rest of the open mic entertaining semi-tipsy musings on this phenomenon. Consider that Fleetwood Mac song "Landslide": "I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills/till the landslide brought me down." If Stevie Nicks had written a song that went "My dad said he'd stop giving me money and make me get a real job and it made me face some tough realities," people would bleed out their ears. As it is, she used the emotional truth instead of the literal truth. And it worked. Nobody's like "Landslide? Really? What's that all about, Stevie?" People just get it.

One thing that consistently alarms INTERN is that people hear the maxim "write what you know" and take it to mean "write about things that happened to you." This phenomenon probably accounts for 80% of slush-pile lifers.

Behold: Things that happened to you are just events—what you know is emotional truth. Truth = emotional truth. Yes!

Let's say you were raised in a boxcar by your schizophrenic uncle, and grew up believing a 1977 Schwinn road bike could read your thoughts.

That doesn't mean you have to write a novel about a kid with a cleverly different name than you who grows up in a boxcar with etc. etc. But you could write a damn good novel with characters who deal with feelings of isolation, shifting realities, and adversity. Growing up in a boxcar gave you special insight into these matters. And it's way more useful and productive to be an expert on emotions than on boxcars, no?

Similarly, memoirs risk becoming meaningless lists of Events That Really Happened if their authors neglect to examine the characters' inner events and realities. Nobody is going to read your memoir and say "Hey, you left out that time when you watched Air Bud with little Jimmy!" but people are sure as hell going to notice (and stop reading) if you leave out emotional truths. Even though memoirs deal with actual events, they're like fiction in that characters still need depth and some degree of transformation. And for that, you need truth.

So that's that.

INTERN apologizes for lecturing!


Update: Chapter Joust 2k9 is officially closed! INTERN will be up all night reading chapters and, um, making those pancakes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

7 Days of Fiction Boondogglery—Day 1

INTERN generally demurs from writing about fiction queries, because that subject is already covered so expertly by blogs like queryshark, pitch clinic and others. But over the past few months, INTERN has been seeing pretty decent fiction queries, followed up by really awful (or almost good, but not quite—which is more awful than truly awful) fiction chapters, and little stores of irkdom and despair have been building up in her heart. Then there was the Writing Retreat, where much Fiction Writing Advice was bandied about, and many of the recurring characteristics of these pseudo-interesting submissions suddenly made sense.

Hence, INTERN is declaring the next 7-10 days (or however long it takes to write 7 posts) F&M week (Fiction and its cousin, Memoir).

Topics to be covered include: higher metaphors! those pesky organisms called characters! suspense—yes, even memoirs need it! how not to write for kids! (in case you haven't been listening to Editorial Anonymous) how to make $ writing while you're waiting for that huge book deal! and so much more! there will be jousting and pancakes, too.

PS. Why don't you read The Rejectionist? Tis a lark!

PPS: OK, for anyone interested, the First Chapter Jousting Match is, indeed, still on and running until 5 PM tomorrow (thursday). Rules are still: send INTERN the first chapter of your unpublished novel or memoir and $10 (internspills @ on paypal. If it's cooked (i.e. ready to be submitted to an agent or editor as a sample chapter), INTERN sends you $20. If it's uncooked, you get $10 credit towards any editing service by INTERN. The clock is a'ticking!

Update:INTERN has been getting lots of Fiction jousters, but so far no Memoir jousters. What's going on? Onwards, brave memoirists!

Monday, August 10, 2009

scenes from life of INTERN

Last night, 1 AM

Techie Boyfriend: Does it ever bother you that we have no fridge magnets?
Sleepy INTERN: Sometimes, I guess.
Techie Boyfriend: It bothers me in the extreme. We keep putting it off. We're never going to get fridge magnets unless we do it right now. Let's go.
Sleepy INTERN: But it's 1 AM!
Techie Boyfriend: Perfect. Walgreens is open until 2.

This morning, 9:30 AM

Very sleepy INTERN: (struggles under weight of 41 memoir proposals) Why are we getting so many of these right now?
Editorial Assistant: It's August.
V. s. I: So?
Editorial Assistant: Think back nine months.
V. s. I: Mmm...December? What happens in December?
Editorial Assistant: People start writing memoirs in December. It takes them about nine months to finish. Then we start getting proposals in August.
V. s. I: They don't REVISE?!?!?
Editorial Assistant: (calls over her shoulder to Assistant Editor) Isn't she cute?

This morning, 10:30 AM

Very very sleepy INTERN: (going to water cooler to fill mug) ...
Head Ed: You look tired.
V.v.s.I: I was up all night selecting and arranging fridg—um, insomnia.
Head Ed: You know what you should do?
Vvvs I: ...
Head Ed: (pulls flier off desk) Ekstatik dancing. You're probably suppressing one of your rhythms. Tonight at 8. Do it.
Vvvvs I: (*how about some ekstatik napping on that red couch?*) Wow. That sounds splendid.
Head Ed: We did a book about it a few years ago.

Coming soon: 7 Days of Fiction Boondogglery. INTERN has been suppressing the urge for too long.

Friday, August 7, 2009

computer world

As per reader request, the INTERN blog is now available on Kindle here. And if like 2 million people subscribe, Amazon will pay INTERN enough to buy her sea-monkeys more Item 12-Sea Monkey Growth Food from the Trans-Science Corporation before they kick the bucket.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

WR Part II: A supposedly inspiring thing INTERN will never do again

If you ever plan to attend a Writing Retreat, there are two sounds you must add to your vocal repertoire before you go. The first is the Murm: a low-frequency, appreciative, I-have-just-been-enlightened-by-the-guru rumble that starts in the back of the throat and never gets past the lips, and is invariably accompanied by a vague nod of the head. The other is the Moo, an elongated Murm which conveys disapproval and suspicion and can be used to let people know that you know that a certain Writing No-No is indeed to be despised.

Let's practice.

Poetry Instructor: I'm going to read one of my poems. Here goes: "fledged with sod, the eaglet/snarfs the guts of day"
Writing Group: *Murm*.
Poetry Instructor: Now I'm going to read another poem. Here goes: "fledged with sod, the eaglet forcefully/snarfs the guts of day." That one had an adverb in it. What do we know about adverbs?
Writing Group: *MOOOOOO.*
Poetry Instructor: But in this case, it was good, because the resonance between the f in forcefully and the f in snarfs showed rebellious artistry.
Writing Group: Oh. *Murm*.

Got it? OK, you're ready to go. Let's jump right into a 6-hour fiction-writing seminar.

Fiction Instructor: It's important to always have someone criticize your work, someone you trust and respect. Friends and family will just lie to you! OK, Who wants to read their work out loud for the group to discuss?
Participant A: This is an excerpt from my fictionalized memoir*. "Mom was filled with terrifying rage, she pressed her face violently against the glass and pounded vigorously, she was mad but didn't want to show it in front of the others. Her wild hair was a symbol of her wild heart, which I guess will never be the same again now that Dad flagrantly betrayed her."
Fiction Instructor: (pause). I'm speechless. That was breathtaking. The way you used your mother's hair to demonstrate her inner turmoil—pure mastery.
Writing Group: *Murm.*
Participant B: I just have one little comment to make about—
Writing Group: *MOOO!*
Fiction Instructor: Anyone else?

OK, OK, that was great, we learned a lot back there, but we've still got a lot of learning left to do. Let's go to a lecture on Craft. No, not like in The Craft—writing craft, silly! The other Fiction Instructor is speaking tonight.

Fiction Instructor: There is so much to say about the Craft of Writing that I don't know how I'm going to fit it all into an hour and a half. So I'm just going to start by reading you a short story of mine. It's 112 pages long.
Fiction Instructor: [...] "And Benny knew Sarah had changed his life forever. The End."
Writing Group: *MURM*.
Fiction Instructor: Whoa, time's up!
Participant A (to Participant B): That was such a great lecture.
Participant B: But she didn't even—
Participant A: (all together now!) *M...*

OK, OK, going to lectures is a lot of fun, but we're really here to write, you know, to do some serious writing. Let's all break into groups and do writing exercises, which is basically the fastest way possible of becoming a writing master.

OK, write down three adjectives that describe you, then use them to write a sentence about a spider! Then, trade your sentence with someone else and write a love letter that starts with that sentence—a love letter to an astronaut! Seriously, guys, this is how all great authors got their start.


INTERN is not an aural learner, and squirms during long discussions. She is constitutionally incapable of sitting still for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and has to be physically restrained during movies and funerals.

On the last night of the Writing Retreat there was a Panel Discussion (ooh: that came out "penal discussion" on first typing, and RIGHTLY SO) between the Instructors that lasted longer than its allotted hour-and-fifteen minute time slot.

After an hour and sixteen minutes of sweaty attention-paying with no end in sight, INTERN began to get really uncomfortable. They kept on going. An hour and twenty minutes. An hour twenty-one. At an hour and twenty-two minutes, INTERN rose abruptly, fled the building, went to the lake, did some ecstatic dancing, skinny-dipped, dried off, came back, and found out to her horror that the discussion was still going on at an hour and forty-seven minutes.

Anyone who is astonished and horrified by the fact that writers On Panel can and will keep on delivering anecdote after process-related anecdote for longer than an hour and fifteen minutes should probably not be trusted to report accurately on a Writing Retreat, since this is exactly what Writing Retreats are all about: stretching the limits of your tolerance for suffering, inanity, and self-hatred, all while telling yourself it's for the greater purpose of Writing Better, that if you stick around long enough you'll uncover the gem of advice that will launch your work into orbit. It's about not quitting five minutes before the miracle happens. Sticking with it. Cutting your adverbs.

There's a writing workshop mentality similar to the gambling mentality, and it has burned INTERN and made her paranoid. Even with a growing anxiety that the endless anecdotes and exercises at a writing retreat are a waste of time, you find yourself unable to tear yourself away from the slot machine—because you've already invested so much in the workshop, and you think maybe just maybe you're on the verge of hitting that epiphanic jackpot where an instructor gives just the nugget of wisdom you need to hear, and your writing will explode with the brilliance and inspiration you came here to find.

And then you'll be the one nodding and Murming, along with everyone else.

*Everyone at WRs seems to want to write a fictionalized memoir, which, INTERN suspects, is a euphemism for "novel about myself."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

what you missed at this morning's editorial meeting:

...a full-out rumble over numbers in book titles. Turns out Head Ed and Exec Ed can both get pretty riled up over number-titles ("A thousand and one ASSHOLES you must ARGUE WITH before you DIE!"), but it all ended peacefully, and INTERN has swept up the spoils of the debate:

-for better or for worse, 1001 is hot right now. So hot. If someone checked the mail right now and found an ms called "1001 Penny-Pinching Tips to Survive the Recession", BAM, instant contract! (but the advance would only be for $1001. Tis penny-pinching times.)

-101, as a number of units, is no longer cool ("101 Dating Tips from Grandmothers"), but is still OK as a course-title gimmick ("Grandma-Dating 101).

-365 is OUT. So last year. Who honestly reads a tip a day, or a recipe a day, or whatever, from the same book? Besides, it's 2009 and this year we're living in the NOW. Not the other 364 days. The NOW.

-2012 is IN. For anyone who doesn't know, 2012 is when Quetzalcoatl himself is coming back. Yeah, that guy. That guy who's bringing the apocalypse. But you only have a few more months to get your 2012 submission in, because those slots are filling up fast.

-7 is kind of OK. (this one was fiercely hashed out, and INTERN is a little scared to convey anything besides neutrality here in case word ever leaks back to Exec Ed). Specifically, 7 is currently OK in fiction titles (it's the new 3), but is totally played for non-fiction.

Go forth and enumerate!

PS. Dang, everyone who commented is way too on the ball—C indeed. Thank god for the giardia club.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Writing Retreat Part 1: Ode to Amateurs

INTERN is back, misty-eyed and kumbaya-ish, from a weekend spent prancing around in nature with pen and journal in hand at an authentic Writer's Retreat. Everyone in the office is peering up over their desks and asking, "What happened at this Writer's Retreat that spawned such obvious paroxysms of hypomanic delight in you, oh normally sleepy intern?"

To which INTERN answers:

a) the lake was really, really pretty!
b) there was unlimited coffee all day!


c) it was full of pure-hearted, earnest, book-loving, whimsical shirt-wearing 50-somethings who really like to read and write but don't seem to care about ever getting published themselves, and actually seemed to consider it a distraction on the odd occasion when someone asked a publishing-related question to an instructor.


So many people smirk at the mention of W.R's that INTERN went into this, her first one, half-expecting to find a mythical tribe of egotistical ring-wraiths, each one with a precious Fictionalized Memoir in a fancy leather folder under its bony arm. But it wasn't like that at all. By some fluke—actually, INTERN suspects it's because this W.R. had no application process and therefore wasn't prestigious enough to attract any manuscript-bearing ring-wraiths—there were only 24 middle-aged, unpublished writing enthusiasts (and one INTERN), and they drank a lot of wine and devoured the instructors' tidbits, for better or for worse, like Kettle Corn.

Maybe it shouldn't have come as such a revelation, but it was: these are the people who buy books, who buy books for their kids, and buy books for their aging parents, and go to book-signings and readings, and sign up for Author Tracker, and join book clubs, and support their local libraries, and who will probably eventually arrange for books to be given out at their funerals or shot into space with their cremated remains. They have—all of them—get ready for it—REAL JOBS. They work—no, seriously—seriously—REAL JOBS—in part so they can afford to buy books (and oddly pristine raingear). For real.

All of this which is probably obvious to everyone else (and problematic in many ways) blew INTERN's mind.


INTERN has a lot more to say about this Writing Retreat, which had its own bulbous dark side, but felt a great need to say the good stuff first, because it doesn't get said enough: amateur writers are really nice people, and they have the incredible gift of caring more about writing than about getting published. Ten thousands huzzahs. A hundred thousand! A million!


INTERN has a lot more to say about this Writing Retreat, but in the meantime enjoy this fun preview quiz:

During her first W.R, INTERN contracted which of the following:

a) Swine Flu
b) Morbid obesity
c) Giardia