linda collison's Sea of Words

charting a course from imagination to publication

Audiobook Now Available

Looking for Redfeather

Looking for Redfeather, a coming-of-age-on-the-road novel (and tongue-in-cheek homage to Jack Kerouace) is now out as an audiobook, read by actor Aaron Landon! Great listening for your next road trip!

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Catherine Curzon is the writer behind the personae Madame Gilflurt, whose online “salon” I attend on a frequent basis.  Her blog, A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life; Glorious Georgian dispatches from the Long Eighteenth Century, reminds me of  an eighteenth century broadsheet; it’s newsy, lively, highly entertaining and always instructive.  Madame writes concisely about people, fashion, places, and events of the day — the details that bring the past to life.  Or she features salon guests, such as novelist Alicia Rasley, to share some titillating bit of 18th century life.  Rasley’s topic, posted today, is about masquerades – a favorite subject of mine.  I sometimes use Madame’s posts as writing prompts to explore my own fictional characters and settings.

I wanted to know more about Catherine’s writing process.  For instance, how did she come up with her persona, the ginbag Madame Gilflurt?  How does she know so much about the “long eighteenth century?”  Is her blogging an end in itself or is there a novel forthcoming? Madame was kind enough to give me some insight.  Catherine Curzon, a.k.a. Madame Gilflurt, says:

 

Ever since I can remember, my life has been full of tall tales. Throughout childhood

I sat at my granddad’s knee in his cottage on the edge of Sherwood Forest and

listened with relish to tales of outlaws and highwayman, of willow the wisps in the

trees and, somewhat improbably as I later realised, the full-blooded tale of Lord

Byron’s ghost who, he claimed, haunted the rural pub in whose beer garden we

passed many happy weekend afternoons.

 

Those stories have never left me and whether bawdy, bloodcurdling of just plain

silly, my granddad’s tall tales made an indelible mark on my life. Add to that a

fateful children’s toy brought for me during a pre-school shopping trip and you

have the makings of who I have since become. As a child my sister and I loved

paper cutout dolls and we made our own though my sister was always the more

artistic of the two so imagine my delight when we were both treated to a Marie

Antoinette paper cutout doll set, featuring the iconic queen and a whole host of

bewigged flunkies. I fell in love with everything about the queen and her retainers

from the fine clothes to the powdered hair, the glittering jewels and, best of all, my

granddad’s spirited retelling of the gruesome fate that befell her.

 

My love affair with Marie Antoinette gradually began to expand and grow, as

these things do, and before too long I was nursing a fascination with the long

18th century. Growing up where I did, I was lucky enough to pay regular visits to

Chatsworth, Haddon and Hardwick and in each of these places I would picture my

fine ladies and dashing fellows, filling the houses with a thousand childish stories of

my own making. Eventually I began to tell stories of my own though these weren’t

period pieces, unless you count a novel I wrote set in 1957, but all the time the

glorious Georgians were nagging at me.

 

For all the love and support of my colonial gentleman , he is not quite as fascinated

with Georgian history as I and after several years of marriage, it became achingly

apparent that I really needed an outlet for the 18th century stories that were

clogging up my brain and, so, A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life was born.

My approach to blog writing is very disciplined and, since I publish a new tale every

single day, it has to be. I gather notes, inspiration and stories from everywhere and

keep them logged in a spreadsheet by date then, every so often, I dive right in. I

take myself off to my favourite coffee shop, where my order of a sparkling water and

pot of tea is ready before I even ask for it, sit at my computer and absorb myself in

the world of the Georgians. In the space of a few dedicated hours and with a steady

supply of tea and music, I might write a dozen first draft posts. I’ll then hone them

over the coming days, sure to keep a few scheduled and ready to go at any one time.

If I get to my blog and see one or two posts there, then it’s time to buckle down and

really get to it; I love sharing stories of the Georgian era so it’s really no chore.

When I started blogging I really thought that it might be fun for a couple of months

and hoped, if I was lucky, that a few dozen people might visit the site and perhaps

lose a couple of minutes there. Instead I’ve been blessed to meet readers, writers

and history enthusiasts from all over the world. Over the year and a bit that I’ve

been publishing the site I’ve featured guest posts from some favourite authors, read

advance copies of their work and even advised on the state of French roads in 1792!

 

All of this has been an enormous boost of confidence as I work at my own latest

novel, The Mistress of Blackstairs, in the determination that, unlike my three

unpublished non-historical works, it will not go unread by all but a few trusted

friends! I am on the second draft of Blackstairs right now and the coffee shop is the

same, as is the tea and water, the music and concentration. The only difference is

that this is fiction, just like those stories granddad used to tell me of Lord Byron’s

restless ghost and a pub in Blidworth Bottoms!

madameGilflurt

 

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame

Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting

quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming

rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In

addition to her blog at www.madamegilflurt.com, Madame G can also be spotted on

Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

 

 

 

 

Friday NightIn this golden age of indie-publishing some writers still want to go the traditional route, which means finding a literary agent to represent your brainchild. It’s all rather backward in my opinion; I mean, why aren’t agents researching writers and querying us?  But that ain’t happening. And so we ever-hopeful writers, like proud and babbling parents of slightly gifted children continue to send letters to perfect strangers.  “Sir or Madame won’t you read my book…”

Agents claim (and sometimes complain) to receive hundreds, thousands, or bazillions of these letters a week.  Why do we writers keep pestering them?  To read some of their tweets, we are pathetic risable bores.  Yet agents make their living representing writers — not heaping scorn upon us.  They’re all looking to find the Next Big Thing.

Agents will succumb to a well-targeted query but you’ll need a heat-seeking missile to escape the trash can’s tractor beam.  Your query has to be sharp and shining to hit the mark. It has to make them want to read your manuscript — want it enough to actually hit “reply” and ask you to send it.  Now you’ve got your foot in the door. It’s only the first step but it’s the first step.

I’m pretty good at query letters.  I started writing them decades ago, when I was freelancing for magazines.  My first published book, Rocky Mountain Wineries; a travel guide to the wayside vineyards (Pruett Publishing, 1994) was the result of a Hail Mary query.  My queries aren’t always successful but often enough they have resulted in an agent or editor asking to see more.  Many times they resulted in a published article, twice they won me an agent, and twice they won me a book contract with a small press.  I figure I’m on an uphill roll. Rocky Mountain Wineries Large

Whether I’m pitching a novel, a nonfiction book or an article my format is basically the same.  Three or four paragraphs, tops.  Here’s my advice:

Keep it short. One page is perfect. Two pages if you’re a Nobel Prize winner or past POTUS.

Personalize! I target each letter to a particular agent for a specific reason, based on what they say they’re looking for on their website, blog, an interview or at a writers conference. I keep a master list of who I’ve queried, the date sent, and the response — if any. These days most agents don’t reply to unsolicited queries unless they’re interested.

Queries can be sent out in quantity, but an outstanding query will generate results, so be prepared for several agents to request “exclusive” readings of full manuscripts. I had this happen recently and was so pumped up by the thought of two agents wanting me, maybe even fighting over me, that I basked in the glow of their desire for a couple of days before responding to either one of them. When I did email back I explained truthfully that another agent had also requested a full manuscript. Both agents wrote back that they still wanted to read the full manuscript, but only if I didn’t shop it out to anyone else while they were considering it.

Ultimately both agents passed on the project.  “Strong voice, well-written, just didn’t fall in love with it, blah, blah, blah.”  Still, my outstanding query letter got me past the threshold.

In the first paragraph I try to hook them with a concept statement about my story — and with a sentence that shows I have an idea of what they’re looking for or other successful books they’ve represented. This is a bit of a smooze effort, but can be highly effective if sincere. If I’ve attended a conference at which they were a speaker, I mention that. I try to make a meaningful connection.  For instance,

Dear _______,

I enjoyed and learned from your comments on the “First Pages” panel at the recent RMC SCBWI autumn conference in Golden, Colorado. I’m querying you about my YA novel “Water Ghosts,” a psychological novel with paranormal and historical elements…

Nothing flashy here but I’ve tried to personally connect with this agent who I know is looking for YA with compelling characters.

The second paragraph is about the project itself. One paragraph in which I capture the heart of the story. Impossible? Yes!  The second paragraph of your query may be the hardest one you’ll ever write.  Don’t explain your story and don’t try to give a full plot synopsis.  Instead, write the back cover teaser for your book.  You might end the second paragraph by mentioning books that influenced you.  Personally, I refrain from comparing my book to other popular titles but many writers do.

The third paragraph is all about me.  A brief bio, germane to this story or project I’m pitching.  Here’s where I mention my previous publishing credits and awards. Publishing credits aren’t as important as they sound because many agents today are looking to discover the next “new” writer. If pertinent, I include a sentence or two about what drove me to write this novel or what experience in my life gives me credibility. This deeper connection to your story can be emphasized if you don’t have publishing credits. You exhibit your writing ability by creating a tight, compelling, well-targeted letter that speaks for itself.

End your killer query by thanking the agent or editor for her time. Offer to send the full manuscript and a box of Belgian chocolate to eat while reading. (I’m kidding about the chocolates.) Don’t forget to include your your contact information!  Include a website, Facebook, blog and twitter links if you have a big following. You have about 30 seconds to capture this person’s attention and make them want to read more.

Find and follow the directions on the agent’s website for querying. Some only want a query, some want sample chapters and a synopsis along with the query, some don’t want attached files but request sample pages cut and pasted beneath the body of the letter. A few agents don’t want electronic queries at all and some will only accept emailed queries.  Some really have no clue what they want.

Save your query letter to use as a template for other agents; no need to reinvent the wheel, just personalize for each.  Don’t forget to keep a log or spreadsheet of agents queried.

Ultimately, a query letter is a concise, elegant sales pitch.  Don’t get discouraged; refuse to be defeated.  Sooner or later you’ll hit your target and bag an agent.  Or maybe you’ll decide to publish the damn thing yourself!

Looking for Redfeather BOYA 10003076_10203553731672707_1146057099_n

Looking for Redfeather audio cover 10416886_10204139038585014_1753765320_nStorytelling isn’t just for bedtime and this ain’t Mom reading Good Night Moon.  This is Aaron Landon bringing to life Ramie, Chas, LaRoux, and the many characters they meet on the road. This is the ACX audiobook production of Looking for Redfeather available from Audible.com

As a writer it’s extremely valuable to hear your work read by someone else.  To have your work read by an actor is both a privilege and a pleasure — and a little startling to literally hear those voices who inhabited your head for so long.

The Audible.com edition includes the Outlaw Trail soundtrack, a single composed by Matt Campbell and recorded by Red Whiskey Blue, a Denver-based band.

We’re giving away five free downloads here on linda collison’s Sea of Words blog; comment on this post or contact us to be entered.  This offer ends October 4.

It ain’t Jack Kerouac’s road trip.

aaron-r-landon-1386338381

 

 

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