Friday, March 27, 2009

Book in a Nutshell Contest

The literary agency, Knight Agency, is holding the Book in a Nutshell submissions contest. The deadline is April 20, 2009.

If you're interested in participating, submit three compelling sentences - 150 words maximum - about your completed, unpublished manuscript to You must write BOOK IN A NUTSHELL in the e-mail subject line. One submission per project.

Agents will choose 20 of the best submissions and request the writers' work. The agent will then give feedback on that work. The contest may even lead to possible representation.

Remember, the deadline is April 20, 2009. Winners will be notified by May 1, 2009. For more information, go to

Happy writing!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Sistah Sleuth On the Small Screen!

For those of you who haven't heard, Grammy award-winning singer Jill Scott will be starring as Precious Ramotswe in HBO's new series, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is based on the best-selling books by Alexander McCall Smith. Even though I'm a fan of gritty murder mysteries and McCall Smith's books aren't really mysteries in the traditional sense, I'm still looking forward to this series! Check out the teaser below.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Writing By Numbers
By Persia Walker

A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to bring a sense or organization to my writing. The work would flow faster and be done quicker if I simply did more preparation. My usual way of writing was simply to get a story idea, jot down the high points, then sit down and go for it. The result was always a self-contradictory manuscript that got soft in the middle and the required multiple rewrites. Well, I was going to reform my ways. I was going to be organized.

I went to and bought that book by James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript. I'm sure that most writers have heard of Frey and his how-to books. I haven't read the How to Write a Damn Good Novel version, but I'm glad I read the one concerning mysteries.

It was an eye-opener. Oh, my. I saw everything I'd been doing wrong -- and everything I'd been doing right. Now, it was just a matter of moving from the instinctive to the intellectual, from guessing to knowing, from trial-and-error to figuring things out properly.

Frey recommends what he calls a stepsheet. It what the rest of us call a scene outline, or simply outline. His stepsheet, however, calls for you to list every scene with a description of what happens and how it leads to the next one. Simple, basic and essentially quite helpful. I'd usually written such things after I'd written my first draft. But now I was going to be a good girl and do it beforehand.

As usual, I have ideas for several stories in mind -- all of which I can't wait to start on. I decided that I would use organized approach for one of them, the least complicated story. I sat down to write this stepsheet -- and hit a wall.

All of the joy and sense of surprise that accompanies the writing of the first draft evaporated. I froze at the keyboard. Always a procrastinator, I suddenly found myself addicted to hours of Hulu. Nothing writerly got done. I couldn't even bring myself to work on the rewrite of my second Lanie Price book.

Finally, I sat down for lunch with a good friend, Catherine Maiorisi. She was very pointed and very direct. "Put the stepsheet aside and go back to what works best for you."

"But I want to be organized," I said. "I want to write like grown-ups do, get it done and get it right. How I write right now ... it's so ... so messy."

She shrugged. "But it works. When you're messy, you're creative. When you're neat, you sink."

I thought about it, came home and picked up the Frey book. It's such a wonderful book. Having read it, I now see the framework he outlines in just about every commercially successful mystery I read. It seems so obvious, you know? But if it's all that obvious, why can't I do it?

Grrrr ...

But Catherine was right. I'm not an organized person and my attempt to force my mind to work in a way that's absolutely antipathetic was actually blocking my process.

I put the Frey book aside and turned on my laptop. I opened Scrivener, my favorite writing program, and started a new document. A blank white digital page is every bit as intimidating as a blank physical one. Trust me.

So I did what one can't do with a typewriter. I turned off the lights.

That's right. I turned down the screen lighting to the point where everything disappeared. Then I closed my eyes just to make sure, put my fingers to the keyboard and began to type.

Oh my, what a relief! No outlines, no rules, no bright blank page. Just me and my imagination.

I'm averaging a thousand words a day now. As usual, I only know the beginning. I have only the vaguest idea of the ending. Will the story amount to anything? I haven't the faintest idea. I only know how much fun it is to love writing again, instead of viewing it as a task.

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, meanwhile, has an honored place on my bookshelf. The lessons it contains will reside in my subconscious, where they belong. They will inform all of my writing from now on, but as a collaborating, but not dominant voice.

Yes, it feels good to be messy again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

With a child's pen

I attended a lecture given by an elementary school teacher the other day. This teacher also is a multi-published author of non-fiction books.

During his presentation, he admitted the different writing styles of elementary school students fascinated him. He said you can give a writing assignment to two students in the same class. One student will approach the assignment with great energy and enthusiasm. She'll write page after page after page after page tirelessly. But her four-page assignment will be one run-on sentence.

The second student will approach the same assignment very studiously. Each sentence will have a noun and a verb that are in agreement. Each sentence will be punctuated correctly. Each paragraph will begin in the appropriate place. But, even though her assignment is mechanically correct, it will lack the energy and emotion that comes from the type of enthusiasm the first student demonstrated in her writing.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself so focused on the mechanics of writing - point of view, scene and sequel - that you're in danger of losing your creativity? I have. I'm struggling through that with my current work-in-progress.

We should all remind ourselves - frequently - that it's about the story. Enjoy the adventure. We can worry about the mechanics in revision.

Happy writing!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Things that make you go hmm

Every time I turn around I'm hearing about low sales figures and mass layoffs in the publishing world and how publishers are going to be tightening their belts and and acquiring fewer books. And, if you are one of the lucky ones to land a book deal in these economically trying times, expect a lower advance, and no book promo budget. Well, if that's the case, why am I seeing deals on Publisher's Marketplace like the ones posted below?

Comedian Kathy Griffin's comedic memoir OFFICIAL BOOK CLUB SELECTION, organized chronologically and promising never-before-discussed personal details about Griffin's life, her background, and how she became who she is today, reportedly in a major deal, "for more than $2 million,"

USAir Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's memoir, to William Morrow, reportedly for between $2.5 million and $3.2 million by various reports, at auction, in a two-book deal (the second said by the Daily Beast to be a collection of inspirational poetry).

Audrey Niffenegger's HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, "a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about her familiar themes of love, loss and identity," to Nan Graham at Scribner, in a major deal, reportedly for approximately $4.5 million, at auction, for publication on September 29, 2009.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge any author a dime of their advance, especially Ms. Niffenegger who's first book, The Time Traveler's Wife, I've heard nothing but good things about and has an estimated 1.3 million copies in print. But Sully? Yes, he's a hero. No doubt about it. I wish he could be my pilot every time I fly. But what about his story haven't we already heard?

As for Kathy Griffin, I saw an episode of her show My Life on the D List where only thirteen people showed up to her comedy DVD signing at Tower Records after she had been all over TV and the radio promoting it. A 2 million dollar advance. . .really?

These are the kinds of deals that make authors want to pull their hair out, especially when you think about all the talented writers who are being passed over because they don't come with a ready made audience.

I'm just sayin'.


Monday, March 09, 2009


I attended a lecture last week. The speaker shared this quote by an anonymous source, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

What do you think? Do you agree with that sentiment? I do. It makes me think of Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells and Shirley Chisholm.

That quote reminded me of another presentation I attended years ago. The speakers were New York Times best-selling authors Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The title was "Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood." The authors' main point was, to be successful, you have to break some rules. Misbehave, if you will. Of course, one should follow the basic tenants of social politeness, but at least question the rules.

Let's take publishing, for example. If publishers won't accept submissions unless that publisher has specifically requested the submission, then we'd be better served to wait for their request. But why can't we submit to multiple publishers at the same time?

If an agent's submission guidelines state she'll respond to our inquiry in eight weeks, why can't we follow up in nine or 10 weeks - if we haven't heard from her - to respectfully request a status on our inquiry?

If a publisher offers us a contract, why can't we try to negotiate for better terms, even on our first contract? Until I've signed the contract, that manuscript is mine. It's in my best interest to make sure I'm comfortable with the terms. After all, don't we want both parties have a good experience with this relationship?

What are your thoughts on misbehaving? Do good girls finish last? Or do you get farther by following the rules?


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I'm back. . .at square one!

Okay, I didn't really mean to drop off the face of the earth. I've just been busy with other things, namely writing. One good thing about my series being dropped is that it has forced me to work on other writing projects and branch out in other directions. I guess I don't have much of a choice if I want to move forward. And as much as it hurts me to admit it--and even though I'm still hoping one day to find a new publisher for the two completed Kendra novels burning a hole on my hard drive--my series is pretty much dead in the water. I told my mother the other day that I feel like I've abandoned Kendra. She told me, "Don't worry. If I know Kendra, she'll be back." I just love my mother ; ).

So, fifteen years and three published novels later, I'm starting all over again. I recently finished a brand new novel. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I won't say anything more about it since it's currently on submission to publishers. With the current state of publishing--namely all the layoffs--things are moving even slower than usual when it comes to submissions. Many editors, who were already overwhelmed, are now doing the work of two or more editors. I'm settling in for a nice long wait. But for me waiting is nothing new. It took me four years to write my first book and another ten to get a book contract. This time around though I have a wonderful agent and I think my writing has greatly improved since my first book. Keep your fingers crossed for me and I'll keep you posted.

Currently reading: The Agency by Ally O'Brien
Currently listening to: Sade Live


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