Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Interesting experiment by the UN

Female peacekeepers in LiberiaThe UN is trying something new in Liberia. The conflict-torn country is being patrolled by the first ever all-female peace-keeping force. Liberia, as you may recall, is one of the countries in which UN forces had been accused of sexually exploiting the inhabitants they were supposed to be protecting. Hardly reassuring if you are a woman in a country where rape is already the most prevalent of crimes.

The UN's response was innovative and effective. The Indian contingent arrived in 2007, and it is probably no coincidence that female enrollment in the Liberian police force has climbed since then. That can only be good news for the women and children of Liberia, who obviously have not been able to count on effective protection in the past. And it is always encouraging to see something that actually seems to be working.

Note: I'm closing this post to commenting because of excessive enthusiasm on the part of spammers. Email me if you have something vital to say. ;o)

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Thank you, USA

Sidney Crosby celebratesThank you for a wonderful game that had us scared right till the very end.

But what really made me proud was when the Vancouver crowd cheered for American goalie Ryan Miller as he received his medal. And when the Canadian crowd cheered the American women's team as they received their medals. It's wonderful when your athletes do you proud, but it's even nicer when your people do you proud.

And having watched these Olympics from the US, may I say I was very impressed by NBC's coverage. It was done with a warmth and a generous spirit that I really enjoyed.

Canadian or not, it takes the Olympics though to make me watch two hockey games in one week. I watched the Canada-Russia game and the gold medal game and they were well worth watching.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Container Gardening for KidsMy apologies for the long silence. I got floored by some rather extreme exhaustion and let my Internet presence slide pretty well across the board. I'm now trying to catch up on the backlog, which is intimidating. The good news is I'm starting here.

For today, just a quick rundown on recent events.

The children's book I mentioned earlier, has been out for some time, and so my name is in a book for the first time, courtesy of Mitchell Lane Publishing.

And in more important news, our first grandchild was born November 4. In keeping with my policy of respecting my family's privacy on this blog, I'm not naming names, but isn't he a little cutie?... His father was born with that full head of hair also, so the inevitable remarks about him looking just like his daddy are coming in. But the face is not quite the same, so I'm confident this little guy will be his own person. Likely a very colourful personality, with the parents he's got. Bland conformity is not likely to be on the menu. Unless, of course, he does it just to bug everybody... ;o)

Wishing all of you a very happy New Year and wondering: what were the major events of 2009 for you?

Friday, 11 September 2009

Shortlisted

Novel MattersWell, well, well. I was one of the six winners at the Novel Matters Audience With an Agent contest. The six lovely ladies who write for that blog (and who are all with the Books & Such Literary Agency) sifted through a slush pile of applicants and selected six to be forwarded to agent Wendy Lawton.

OK, you might be saying, why do you need a contest to query an agent? And the answer is: you don't, of course. But I suspect an agent is going to take a closer, harder, longer look at queries (complete with synopses and first chapters) that come with a recommendation from six people whose taste in writing she respects. She is also promising feedback, something you don't normally get with a query. So I am well-pleased, and very grateful to have been selected.

And, as any writer knows, a shot of affirmation now and then is a wonderful thing. Especially when it comes from professionals.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Gift horses

It might be time to rethink that old proverb "Never look a gift horse in the mouth". Or that seems to be the theme of today's Odd News.

So here, for your entertainment and edification, are three reasons why you might just want to have a look at that horse mouth after all.

#1. Because if you don't, it might bite you. Floridian police use stimulus money as a lure to catch criminals. They say it's a lot safer to draw the criminals to them rather than go after them in their homes.

#2. Because it might be a Trojan horse. Several state governors received unexpected laptops they didn't actually order. After the first shipment, they suspected a mistake. After the second, they called in law enforcement. None of the laptops were ever actually turned on. Turns out they were ordered with bogus accounts. It will be interesting to find out what kind of Greeks were hiding in there.

Fake moon rock#3. It might not even be a horse at all. Dutch officials are dismayed to discover their treasured moon rock is just a piece of petrified wood. So did the US ambassador know it was a scam when he gave the "moon rock" to the Dutch prime minister? Looks like somebody is going to have to pull out all their diplomatic skills to explain this one.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Further thoughts on writers' conferences

Ah, if Janna says jump, we jump. What is it about that girl?

So here are my thoughts on writers' conferences, as far as they go. Please keep in mind that this is based on my very limited experience, so feel entirely free to correct me or expand on what I've said.

If you are well-informed on the publishing industry and how it works, if you read the blogs of editors and agents, frequent online writers' forums that include experienced professionals, read books on writing and participate in some form of critique groups, chances are you won't get a whole lot out of the scheduled workshops, or at least not most of them. Aspiring writers are the bread and butter of these conferences, and much of it caters to them and is therefore at a pretty basic level. But not all of it. I found Jeff Gerke's continuing workshop for novelists to be thought-provoking. I bought his book The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction and will probably buy his interactive DVD The Writer's Foundation. I found the exercises he had us do in the workshop (which were taken from the DVD) quite useful.

Actually meeting an editor was also useful, if only to hear the near-surprise in her voice when she said that I had an interesting premise. She also gave me the distinct impression that it was not right for her publishing house, despite her favourable impression. Oh well. There are other publishing houses.

The main value of most conferences is the opportunity to network, both with fellow writers and with industry professionals. To get the most out of a conference in that regard, you need to choose a conference at which the participating professionals are ones who are most likely to be interested in and knowledgeable about the kind of book you are writing. And you probably need to go for the duration of the conference. The one-day, in-and-out kind of thing that I did is really not the best way to go about this. I did manage to make some connections, but I think it would have worked much better if I'd had more time to develop them.

So there you go. Any wisdom to add?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Quote of the day

Dorothy L. Sayers
Our speculations about Shakespeare are almost as multifarious and foolish as our speculations about the maker of the universe, and, like those, are frequently concerned to establish that his works were not made by him but by another person of the same name.

- Dorothy L. Sayers

Hat tip to Novel Journey

Friday, 14 August 2009

Looking for a literary agent

I've been answering a lot of the same questions lately from aspiring writers wanting to know how to find an agent. Finding I'm not much of an expert on, but I can help with the looking part.

To start building a list of agents, two really great resources are AgentQuery and QueryTracker. Both are searchable databases, enabling you to find out quickly who represents what.

QueryTracker, as you might guess from the name, also allows you to make up a personalized list and keep track of the status of your query. The data from all users are compiled to provide statistics on how quickly agents reply, how often they request material, and so on.

After making a tentative list, you should research each agent individually. Check their agency websites and make sure they represent the kind of book you've written, who their clients are, what they've sold. This information is usually, although not always, more up-to-date than other sources.

Check to see if they're a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives. This isn't essential, but members adhere to a set of ethical guidelines and have a record of sales, so it is generally a good sign.

And scurry over to Preditors and Editors (yes, the misspelling is intentional - think about it) to find out if the agent you covet is known as a scam artist. They're classified alphabetically by first names, in case you're having trouble finding your way around.

If you're looking to get a Christian book published, Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson has posted a very useful list of agents they have dealt with.

Last but not least, head over to the Absolute Write forums and check out the Bewares and Background Check section to get additional information on specific agents and agencies. You'll get lots of useful information, including comments from writers who have dealt with them.

You can also find out some pretty incredible information by Googling. Like which agent is a belly dancer, who writes about jazz as a hobby, and who they hang out with on MySpace.

Have fun looking, and feel free to add your favourite resources or ask questions in the comment section.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

I'm baaack

OK, so nobody knew I was gone. Fair enough.

I spent Friday at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers' Conference, which was a first for me. Saturday, as predicted, I crashed. Not surprising, seeing as I attended two panel discussions, skipped a third in favour of a serendipitous encounter, attended a two-hour "boot camp" with editor Shannon Marchese, two teaching sessions with Jeff Gerke, and of course, two meals and various hobnobbing sessions. A lot for someone with fatigue issues.

I'd never been to a writers' conference before and I'm still absorbing it. And I'm wondering if it was a good use of my time.

The panels were so-so. The questions posed to the editors were very basic, things the participants should have known if they'd done any research. Google is your friend, people.

On the other hand, Jeff Gerke's continuing session on advanced fiction writing was great. Really. He's a good teacher and makes things very clear. I'm working my way through his The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction right now. The boot camp with editor Shannon Marchese was also very interesting, if somewhat less organized. I took a lot of notes, so I'll be able to review that one.

What conferences are about more than anything, of course, is networking. It was nice to meet in the flesh people I'd only known online, even if the meeting was all too brief. I also met new people, several of whom were insanely nice. You know, the kind of people you don't feel you deserve to meet, they're so nice. Three in one day has to be some kind of record.

As for concrete results, that remains to be seen. I don't need them to consider the conference a success though.

Anybody want to share with me what kind of benefits (or not) you've reaped from conferences?

Friday, 31 July 2009

The power of story

My son's band was auditioning for the right to play the main stage at a local festival. American Idol-style, these second-round auditions were open to the public. My son's band was playing the last set of the evening.

There was just one problem. One of their guitarists had already committed to playing a nursing home (yes, you read that right) earlier that evening. But they figured he'd be able to turn up on time. It would be tight, but he'd make it. When set-up time came, he still wasn't there. They set up as slowly as they possibly could, and the MC was as helpful as he could be, hamming it up and even singing a song of his own to keep the audience engaged. Still no guitarist, and there was just no way to delay any longer. So they picked a song in which his contribution wasn't too central, improvised a bit to fill in the holes, and performed the song.

Still no guitarist. This is only a four-man band, so it matters.

They looked at each other, picked another song, and started in. What else could they do? And then, partway in, the missing guitarist came sprinting up the aisle, bounded onto the stage, plugged in his guitar... just in time for his solo. It could not have been better timed if they had deliberately staged it.

And they won the competition. One of the organizers told them afterwards that they were serious contenders from the outset, but once their performance turned into a story, and one with a happy ending at that, they were a shoo-in. This despite the fact they were not a local band, and the audience vote counted for 50% of the final outcome.

And that, my friends, illustrates the power of story about as well as anything could.
 

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