Friday Links: How Is It December? Edition

Where did December come from? We’re four days into my December Writing Challenge, yet still, the month surprises me. So much of this year snailed along, but we hit Labor Day and zip, zip! Not that I will miss 2020, but it’s still a shock to realize how quickly this last part of the year has gone.

Photo by Guneet Jassal on Unsplash

Today I bring links, but first, a bit of chatty business. As mentioned above, I’m holding my annual writing challenge this month. You can find all the rules and the kick-off post earlier this week. Please join in, even if you missed the start. I try to keep the challenge encouraging and low key, particularly this year with the pressures of the pandemic. Come for a bit of inspiration, some pep talks, the occasional prompt or writing sprint. Posts will appear hear, and I’m tweeting daily as well. So, come write. The more the merrier.

We’ve entered end-of-year booklist territory. Yes, some of them are ridiculous. There are far too many. And yet, I love them. I’ve included some below, to help with holiday shopping or holiday reading of your own. There also might be some soon-to-come booklists, just to mix it up. But there’s no real theme to this week’s links. We’re very casual around here in December. Kick off your shoes, grab a mug of something hot, and stay a while. Wishing you a great weekend, and happy writing!

This week’s links:

NPR’s Book Concierge 2020. – A wonderful roundup of recommended books that came out this year, with the added ability to search by genre, audience, and more. Previous years’ lists are also available. By far my favorite year-end booklist, just due to sheer volume.

19 Books by Northeast Indian Authors. – As the article says, so good you’ll be adding them to your reading list ASAP. I know I’ve added a few to mine.

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More. – The announcement that these events, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, will not be returning in their previous form.

Jason Reynolds bought up all his own books from local DC bookstores and gave them to readers. – The generous act of an author on Giving Tuesday.

8 Books about Feminist Folklore. – An intriguing set of titles both for pleasure reading and for research.

32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021. – A list of upcoming books to keep on your radar.

This Holiday Season, Support These 8 Charities that Hand Out Books. – A great list of organizations that donate books to those that need them. Consider one (or more) for your year-end charitable contribution.

The Hidden Literary Heritage of Harriet the Spy. – An intriguing look into the history of this beloved literary character.

December Writing Challenge 2020: Ready, Set, Write!

Welcome to the December Writing Challenge! I posted the rules for the challenge on the blog yesterday. You can remember them pretty easily, as they boil down to “write at least a little bit every day this month.” I include some ways to make that easier on yourself, but in general, the goal is to keep your writing momentum going.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Most writers have resolutions or goals regarding their careers. When a new year rolls around, they brush off those goals and dive in. But if you spend December NOT writing, because you’re busy with holidays and year-end distractions, writing becomes more difficult.

Your brain needs training, like every other muscle. If you don’t use it for a particular task for a while, it won’t forget how to do it, but it will get a little bit lazy about it. The December Writing Challenge forces you to flex that muscle, even if just for half-an-hour, each day so you’re ready to get back to business in January.

Now, we all know 2020 has been a very rough year. It’s played hard and fast with many people’s ability to focus, to be creative, and that hasn’t magically become better because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. By all means, be kind to yourself. But take this opportunity to try and get your writer’s brain back on track. Make a small effort each day. They add up.

I will be posting prompts and ideas and encouragement here on the blog all month long. You will also find me cheerleading over on Twitter @NepheleTempest, under #DecWritingChallenge. In the meantime, I’ve a few tips to get you going.

Challenge Tips:

  • Schedule your writing time. Look through your calendar and make a few writing appointments, with reminders and everything.
  • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing. Make it clear your writing time is sacred and you need to take those minutes for yourself.
  • Find a writing buddy to hold you accountable. I mentioned this yesterday and I can’t stress how helpful it can be. If you do the challenge together, you can check in and give each other a mental boost on days when it’s more difficult.
  • Make your writing time an occasion. Fix a cup of coffee or tea, light a candle, grab a couple of delicious cookies. If you like writing to music, put on your favorite playlist. Treat yourself to your ideal writing conditions as often as possible.
  • Try a different medium. If you’re having trouble writing, try pen and ink if you normally use a computer, or pull out an old typewriter from your attic and put it to work.
  • Play in someone else’s sandbox. If you’re feeling blocked on your own project, try your hand at fanfiction for your favorite book, film, or TV show.

I hope these give you some inspiration to get started. You deserve the time to write, to create, to reach for your dreams. If you have an existing writing habit, good for you. I hope this motivates you to keep going. If you’re thinking about writing, start. Today. Right now. Go write. I challenge you.

December Writing Challenge 2020: The Be-Kind-to-Yourself Edition

Welcome to the last day of November. Long-time followers know this day brings the announcement for my annual December Writing Challenge. Each year, I urge you all to keep up your writing momentum during this busiest of months. Maybe you’re coming off NaNoWriMo and have successfully churned out 50,000 words in November. Or you missed that goal, but still have your NaNo project you love and wish to continue. Maybe you think NaNoWriMo an insane endeavor, and you’re just plugging away at your current WiP or poking at a new story idea. Regardless, this challenge is for you.

Photo by René Porter on Unsplash

The December Writing Challenge focuses on showing up and doing the work. This challenge has no minimum word count or page goal. Instead, the idea is to keep your writer’s brain in gear through the holiday season, when distractions rise up and steal your free time. I challenge you to steal those minutes back, and dedicate them to writing.

Rules of the Game:

  1. Write every day in December. You don’t need to accomplish a lot, or put in hours and hours. Maybe you manage an hour, maybe less, but try for at least 30 minutes per day.
  2. You can take two days off from writing over the course of the month, if you really need them. Maybe you’re cooking a big holiday dinner for your pandemic pod. Maybe you need a day to just stare at the ceiling. Whatever. Try to write every day, but know you can have a couple of breaks if necessary.

That’s it. Those are the rules. At least, those are the traditional rules, by which I’ve run this challenge every year for… I’m not sure how long.

But this year is 2020, and we all know that translates to endlesss special circumstances. So this year I offer up some variations to my typical challenge. Feel free to charge ahead with the traditional rules, but if you need to be a little bit kinder, gentler with yourself, I have additional suggestions.

Pandemic Add-ons:

  1. Any new writing counts. Normally, I’d urge you to tackle a novel, short story, poetry, personal essay, memoir, nonfiction book proposal–something that is work/career related. But in this terrible year, that might feel like more pressure than you are up for. And I’d rather you write something than walk away from the challenge because you can’t imaging writing something substantial. So if you want to write something a little more low key, start a journal or write letters to your friends and family. Script out what you want to say over your holiday meal. Write a letter to yourself about your plans for 2021. Play a bit. Don’t take it too seriously. But make it something new (if you already keep a daily journal, for instance, don’t count it for the challenge) and try to have fun with it.
  2. Editing counts. I acknowledge that what you work on depends on where you are in your career, and if you’re up against a deadline, sometimes your writing time gets dedicated to other tasks. I try to encourage a mix of editing and new writing where possible, since keeping that writing brain limber is your goal. But edits are your focus, go for it. Try to write at least some new material this month, but any project work counts as a challenge day checked off.
  3. Find yourself an accountability partner. This is always an option, of course, but this year I really urge you to find a writing buddy to help keep you on track. Set up a time to Zoom or Skype and write together virtually. Do it once a week or do it every day. Whatever helps you. E-mail each other pages–not to read, but just as proof. Let someone else cheer you on and encourage you to write.
  4. Pick one writing skill to work on. Instead of tackling an entire project, figure out some aspect of your writing you’d like to improve and do some writing exercises to focus on that one thing. Create a character and come up with their background, wants, needs, personal tragedies, etc. Maybe you’ll use them in a story, maybe not, but see how well you can flesh them out even outside a specific context. Pull up landscape photos online and write descriptions of them that bring them vividly to life. Write a page of dialogue between two characters with no descriptions or narrative; see how much you can convey to the reader. Tackle something different each week in December. Make it a game.
Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

Here’s the thing: Life doesn’t stop. There’s a pandemic. This had been a terrible year for so many reasons. But we can’t put our lives on hold indefinitely. Take all the reasonable precautions you can to keep yourself and the people around you safe. Maybe that means working from home, wearing masks, ordering groceries online. Or you’re out of work and struggling. It weighs heavily, all of it.

But you can control some small things. Maybe not the output, but the effort. Tell yourself your dreams are still worth it. Try. The world will get a little bit better, you’ll feel a little more hopeful. Because this one thing is in your power. Take a few minutes to yourself, and write. I challenge you. Join me here tomorrow for the official kick off. And happy writing!

Finding Reasons to Be Thankful

I ignore Thanksgiving most years. I find it difficult to get behind a holiday linked to so many troubling aspects of our history. But that said, I still believe in taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in my life. This year in particular calls for gratitude.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

At its core, Thanksgiving in the United States revolves (supposedly) around being thankful for survival in the midst of adversity. It’s evolved to be about family and food and excess, but those weren’t the initial intentions. I think a pandemic that has killed more than 260,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 13 million Americans counts as a time of adversity. We’ve lost so much this year.

I tend to be a glass-half-empty person. It’s how my brain works. I see the negatives because I want to fix things. Things that work don’t require as much attention. But focusing on the bad can wear you down, so today I’m ignoring the projects and the politics and the pandemic (while staying home, very much by myself). Today, I’m thankful not to be ill. I’m thankful for food in my kitchen and my mother still on the other end of the phone line. For friends around the world who are healthy, and for those who are not but still manage to hang on. I am so grateful for my lovely co-workers and clients. For the existence of books in the world, and music and streaming TV and the delightful pen pals who fill my mail with something other than bills. I’m especially thankful for a few glimmers of hope that maybe, possibly, we can pull ourselves together and do better in the new year.

Wishing you all a day to be thankful for.

Friday Links: Tricks and Treats Edition

Happy Halloween Eve! The week got away from me, as I’ve been catching up after last week’s virtual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I started out Monday with a pile of backlog and a brain buzzing about writing structure, saggy middles, handling timelines, and more. Even agents pick up great tips at writing conferences.

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay

So here we are, on the cusp of Halloween, plus a new month and the start of NaNoWriMo. I thought I’d offer a mix of writerly and seasonal links to kick things off. Whether you plan to watch horror movies, dress up, or just settle down with a good book and bowl of candy, I wish you a fun, safe Halloween, and a stellar start to NaNo. Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night. You get an extra hour of writing time on Sunday. Sounds like a treat to me!

This week’s links:

‘I spooked myself right before bedtime:’ Authors on Their Scariest Creations. – A little Halloween inspiration to put you in the mood.

The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark. – A peek at some lesser known works of the author that fit right into the season.

Tana French: Hope in Hard Times. – The thriller writer discusses her latest manuscript, which she has the great fortune to hand in shortly before COVID-19 shut downs ramped up, as well as other aspects of her writing on the latest episode of The Secret Library Podcast.

Where to Start with Shirley Jackson. – The author’s work seems to be undergoing a resurgence on screen, but what about actually reading her stories? Here’s a guide to how  you might approach them.

When Is It Okay to Write About Someone Else’s Culture or Experience? – Part of Charlie Jane Anders’ ongoing project to write a book about story craft, which Tor.com has been publishing in installments. Great information here about what we mean when we refer to #OwnVoices writing.

How Not to Be All About What It’s Not All About: Further Thoughts on Writing About Someone Else’s Culture and Experience. – A terrific follow up to the above from Nisi Shawl.

Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca. – In light of the new adapation on Netflix (which I advise you to skip; stick to the Hitchcock version), I urge you to read or reread Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel and see for yourself all the ways suspense can build. Terrific lesson, no matter what sort of fiction you write.

Friday Links: A NaNoWriMo Inspiration Edition

Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:

At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.

I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.

Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!

This week’s links:

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Stories & Ideas. – Initially, The LA Times postponed this year’s festival due to COVID-19. Eventually, they decided to go virtual. Register now for free panels starting this weekend and running into mid-November.

15 of the best first lines in fiction. – Having trouble kicking off your book? Check out these stand-out first lines for some creative sparks.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Writing a More Authentic Mexico. – The author chats with Maris Kreizman on her podcast on how she approached depicting a more realistic version of Mexico for readers more familiar with clichés.

On Learning of My Autism While Trying to Finish a Novel. – Madeleine Ryan discusses neurodiversity and how she now thinks of her own characters.

A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s. – Ever wonder about those partial letters between characters? This edition includes physical copies, fleshed out based on clues from the text.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide. – This blog post provides a great breakdown of tips for getting reading for NaNo.

Querying New Material: An Update

My submissions box reopens to queries on Monday, October 19th. As I mentioned a few posts back, I am changing how I handle requests for material. Due to the extreme influx, I can no longer accept queries for every genre I represent simultaneously. It’s a wonderful problem to have–all those great stories coming my way–but I can’t keep up.

Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Instead of taking queries on all fronts, I plan to rotate what genres I’m open to seeing. Which genres open will depend on the current market, what I have signed on recently, and what I feel most interested in reading at the time. I expect to review my decisions every few months, and to change what I’m looking for accordingly.

Accepted genres will be updated on my QueryManager page prior to my reopening on the 19th. I will also update my wishlists here and on The Knight Agency website. I hope this new system will lead to speedier response time, especially on partial and full manuscript requests. Looking forward to seeing what you’ve all been writing!

Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative: Ethan Hawke via Ted Talks

Ethan Hawke puts himself out there. Whether he is acting, playing music, or putting pen to paper, he throws his full effort behind the task. In his recent Ted Talk from quarantine, he shares some sound advice and demonstrates the honesty behind his craft. Even if you’re not a fan, you should give it a watch. I particularly recommend it for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome, or struggling due to the pandemic.

Friday Links: Falling into Autumn Edition

Somehow, despite the global pandemic and the west coast burning and what has often felt like the slowest year on record, we’ve reached October. Autumn in SoCal is nebulous at the best of times. Predictably, I’m writing this in the midst of a heatwave. No hot tea or cozy sweaters for me. More like ice cream and air conditioning. But fall still brings to mind school supplies and productivity, and I am way past due for an update.

Things on the horizon:

Utmost in most of your minds, no doubt, is when I plan to open again to submissions. The answer is, in a couple of weeks. I haven’t set a firm date yet as I’m tinkering with a few things. I’m also making decisions on some lingering projects in my inbox. Right now I plan to make a more formal announcement late next week.

That said, there will be some changes in what I’m looking for in terms of new material. I’m not making any huge shifts in what I represent, but I will no longer be accepting queries for all of those genres at the same time. I can’t keep up with the influx. I will update my wish list both here and on the agency site, and my QueryManager page will offer a much more limited list of genres I am accepting.

Please note that I will be changing which genres I’m accepting queries for from time to time, based on the balance of my client list, the market, and what I am most interested in reading. So if I’m not accepting projects in the genre you write, that does not mean I won’t be taking them again in a few months. But please, do not try to sneak your query to me by labeling it under some inappropriate genre or emailing it directly. It will be rejected unread in the first instance, and deleted in the second.

I realize some of you will be frustrated by this, and I am sorry. All I can say is, like many people, I have found my state of mind profoundly affected by world events, particularly the pandemic, and the result is my reading interests and ability to focus have shifted. I bounce off books I should adore. I sink into things that previously would not have interested me. Fighting it doesn’t do anyone any good.

So that’s where things stand on the business front. Now on to the fun stuff. I’ve a mishmash of links for you this week, and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Wishing you all a lovely weekend and happy writing!

This week’s links:

So What’s the Difference Between a Myth, a Fairytale, and a Legend? – An interesting look at three similar types of story and their definitions.

Word Matters. – The new-ish podcast brought to you by Merriam-Webster focusing on grammar, word origins, and other word-related things.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name. – An entertaining history of the Irish writer’s relationship to his alter ego, and why he needs to live on in Spain.

Why Goodreads Is Bad for Books. – A review of the site’s history and stagnant existence, plus an intriguing peek at a new potential alternative.

Susanna Clarke’s Fantasy World of Interiors. – A lovely interview with the author, discussing the long break between her books and the mysterious ailment affecting her ability to work.

Are We Running Out of Monster Metaphors for the Disasters of the Real World? – Looking at the ways in which we cope with our real-world fears through fictional threats.

Up Close: A 1574 Map of London. – Take a look at the city’s layout during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Friday Links: A Celebration of Books and Booksellers

Today I wish to celebrate both books and the people who sell them. Independent Bookstore Day is tomorrow, and fall titles start hitting shelves in a few days. Reading good books takes some sting out of this ongoing pandemic, so what better time to praise all things bookish?

Independent Bookstore Day logo of a hand holding an open book.

 

What have you all been reading during this period of safer-at-home? I know not everyone can focus on books right now, but sometimes that means returning to old favorites or finding joy in poems or shorter books. I’m doing some rereading, myself. Old romantic mysteries by Mary Stewart. Humorous poetry I discovered as a child. But also new romances and women’s fiction. Fantasy as long as it stays well away from dystopian situtations. All mixed in with “homework” reading: how to be a better, more active ally to BIPOC people, and political titles about the state of our democracy. If that sounds like a lot, it hasn’t been. It’s been slow going, spread over months, with more books piling up on my TBR behind them at a rapid rate.

Fall always brings a wealth of new titles. I’m trying to keep my pre-orders at a minimum, simply because there are soooo many new books I want to read. But pre-orders are the way to go in this new pandemic economy. Let publishers know they should print copies of the books you’re looking forward to reading. Supply chains are still moving slowly, so reader interest helps publishers know where to make their best efforts.

Meanwhile, here are a bunch of links to give you ideas of what to read, and where to get your copies. Plus the usual writing/industry chatter. I hope you find something interesting and inspiring. Have a great weekend, filled with wonderful books and maybe a little quality writing time!

This Week’s Links:

Independent Bookstore Day. – A resource of online and in-store events taking place to celebrate independent bookstores across the country.

117 Black-Owned Bookstores. – A great resource if you’re looking to support Black-owned businesses. You can even check for stores in your own state.

The Importance of Bookstores During the Pandemic. – A lovely homage to bookstores and all they do for us, especially in difficult times.

Eight Trends in Book Cover Art, From Busy Botanicals to Women Walking Away. – As it says. Some beautiful examples, attached to some great reads. (I’m personally partial to the botanicals.)

Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant. – A short film about the Canadian author and her approach to writing, with interview footage as well as the author reading samples of her work. Inspiring, plus a lovely bit of armchair travel.

Why It’s Not Empowering to Abandon the Male Pseudonyms Used by Female Authors. – A thoughtful look at the recent decision to release a number of books written by women including their birthnames over the pseudonyms they chose, and why this is not a simple situation.

9 Books about Disreputable Women by Women Writers. – Great books featuring the inside stories of women society labels disreputable.

The New California Curriculum. – An interesting look at what it means to be a California writer, and where these writers fit into the literary landscape as we reconsider what types of books should be considered “canon.”

Plotting Your Fantasy with a Bullet Journal. – One writer’s system for organizing their writing, plot, and world building.

We Need People Within Our Publishing Houses Who Reflect What Our Country Looks Like. – A great interview with Lisa Lucas, who will be leaving her post as head of the National Book Foundation at the end of the year to take on the role of publisher at PRH’s Pantheon and Schocken Books.