Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Reason for the Article

I just posted a rather long article, but there's a reason for it. It has inspired me to write a story with the main character being a private investigator for an airline company trying to crack down on luggage theft. I can see the short story already. He finally finds a couple that he thinks are the theives, he tracks them to their home, the whole time he is telling about how it's going to be rewarding to finally catch these theives, talking about the social contract in society about not stealing, about how everyone must do their part, self rightous stuff....then BOOM, he sees where they live. Old couple, taking care of many kids, a child that is special needs, lots and lots of poverty, and he has a momentary delimma about his course of action. I'd leave it right there so that the reader doesn't know what he is going to do.

Rather long article

As travelers get ready for holiday flights, they might want to skip tucking presents into their checked suitcases this year. That's because baggage theft is on the rise.
This year, Delta Air Lines Inc. baggage handlers were caught rifling through suitcases in the belly of airplanes in Hartford, Conn., pocketing laptops, cameras, iPods, GPS units, jewelry, watches and earrings, according to Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police.

Authorities also broke up a ring of airline thieves in St. Louis who, according to Lambert Airport Police Chief Paul Mason, were targeting soldier's bags that were shipping off to war. Baggage handlers pulled soldiers' duffels off a conveyor belt in a tunnel, stashed loot and then picked it up later, taking it home under their coats or in backpacks. Among the stolen items recovered: laptops, electronic game systems, cameras, cigarettes, battery chargers, sunglasses and firearms.
Baggage-theft arrests have been made this year in cities around the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Adelaide, Australia. In Phoenix, a couple was found with 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage and belongings piled floor-to-ceiling in their home. The pair had been lifting bags off carousels at the airport.
In Portland, Ore., Northwest Airlines baggage handlers were caught stealing items and posting them for sale on eBay right from a supervisor's airline-owned computer. Baggage theft reports are up nearly 50% this year, according to airport spokesman Steve Johnson. Portland airport police have received 195 reports of baggage theft this year through October, compared with 132 reports in the same period of 2008. At least 43 of the reports this year relate to the ring at Northwest, Mr. Johnson said.
In New York, police caught baggage handlers stealing items from bags and then switching destination tags so that the luggage would be lost. If the bag was reunited with owners, the circle of possible suspects who handled it had been expanded, covering the tracks of the thief.
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Associated Press
A Phoenix couple allegedly stole luggage off carousels at the airport. Police found more than 1,000 items at their home.

Airlines say baggage theft is rare among the millions of passengers who fly each year, but law-enforcement officials say it has been growing significantly. "There's been a tremendous increase in the last five years. It's pretty bad—a lot is getting stolen every day," said a prosecutor in the Queens County district attorney's office, which handles airport theft cases in New York.
Authorities attribute an escalation to the sour economy and to tighter security around cargo, which historically has been a target for thieves. Passenger baggage is now easier pickings. In addition, cost-cutting at airlines and police departments has reduced patrols and enforcement, officials say.
Missing Golf Balls
Some thefts are small. Charles Petersen of Biddeford, Maine, had about 20 golf balls stolen from a locked travel case on a flight from Boston to Tampa. "It feels like they are doing this with impunity," he said.
And some thefts amount to grand larceny. Two Kennedy Airport baggage handlers working for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines were charged with stealing a bag of jewelry worth $280,000. One of the men was a crew chief.
For travelers, the sting of a theft is often followed by frustration with airlines and the Transportation Security Administration, which often are slow to respond to reports and in most cases deny any responsibility. Airline ticket rules—the "contract of carriage"—exclude liability for any valuables in luggage, such as computers, cameras, electronic equipment, jewelry, business documents, artwork or similar valuable items.
Amanda Slaver flew from Rochester, N.Y., to Las Vegas in February and found that her jewelry bag had been unzipped. The good stuff—gold, diamond and sapphire family heirlooms—had been taken and the plastic, glass and metal jewelry remained.
"It was devastating," she said. "Your trust is broken."
For the next seven months she argued with Delta over a $3,000 claim. The airline said it wasn't liable because its contract of carriage excludes valuables from the airline's responsibility. Delta offered her a $100 voucher toward a future ticket. "It seemed less like they wanted to help me and more that they just wanted me to go away," she said.
Avoiding Baggage Theft
Baggage theft hits many travelers. Here's how to protect yourself:
• Never put anything of value in checked luggage. Airlines don't cover it. Small, easily pocketed items are most at risk, from jewelry and electronics down to battery chargers and golf balls.
• If you can't carry valuables onboard, ship them separately. With shipping companies, you can insure your valuables and get tracking information.
• Don't rely on luggage locks. They are easily broken or bypassed.
• If you do find something stolen, report it immediately to the airline, to the TSA and to local airport police.
• Mark your bag with colorful ribbon or straps (that won't get caught in conveyor belts) so it can be spotted easily on a crowded carousel. That lessens the chances someone else will walk off with it, intentionally or by accident.
A Delta spokeswoman says the airline does offer compensation to customers "within the limits of our contract of carriage."
Vijay Dandapani, a hotel executive in New York, complained to both Continental Airlines Inc. and the TSA after a brand-new iPod was taken out of its carton and stolen from his bag traveling from Newark, N.J., to Mumbai. TSA closed his case saying it couldn't help him; Continental sent him a $100 travel voucher.
"You feel violated," he said.
Both airline workers and TSA screeners have access to checked luggage, and it's often impossible to tell who is responsible unless a thief is caught red-handed. Airlines say they try to avoid finger-pointing with TSA over blame. Law-enforcement officials say TSA thefts, though they got lots of attention in past years, account for a relatively small portion of all baggage theft and have been declining.
In 2005, TSA paid out more than $3 million in claims for theft and baggage damage, but by 2008, that dropped to $813,000. Through October this year, TSA has paid out only $446,000 in baggage claims, a spokeswoman said.
Adding Cameras
TSA has reduced baggage theft as it has moved from opening bags and searching by hand to running them through scanning machines on conveyor belts, limiting the number of bags handled by screeners. The agency says it has also added more surveillance cameras to baggage-screening areas.
A total of 330 TSA officers have been fired for theft since the agency's inception, a spokeswoman said.
Complaints filed with TSA about property losses—which include theft—have also dropped, down 26% this year through October compared with the same period of 2008.
Airlines say they look for patterns in theft claims filed by customers and work with police to catch thieves. Arrests in Portland, Hartford, St. Louis and New York all included Delta employees or contractors, for example, and Delta says that's because it initiated most of the investigations. In New York, for example, Delta and TSA planted a bag stuffed with electronics in the JFK baggage system and two men working together, one a TSA screener and the other a baggage handler, were videotaped swiping a computer and cellphone, then switching the luggage tags to help cover their tracks.
Since it's hard to pin down at which airport items were stolen, airport police chiefs have launched a new reporting system that tracks the itinerary of a stolen bag, alerts airports along the route and tries to spot patterns, says Chief Mason in St. Louis, who is also president of Airports Law Enforcement Agencies Network, an association of police chiefs. In its first six months, the system has already identified one airport that might be having a problem, he said.
Lost Or Stolen
Airlines don't report statistics on baggage theft, and often never know if a bag was simply lost or if it was stolen. Carriers say they do have surveillance cameras in some locations, and they do conduct spot checks at baggage carousels to match tags on bags with claim checks. Theft of an entire bag, while rare, they say, is most often traced back to someone stealing from a baggage-claim carousel, as with the Phoenix couple.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun new random luggage checks and increased video camera surveillance and patrols in baggage-claim areas. Other airports say they patrol baggage areas, watch baggage handlers and sometimes send officers in civilian clothes to monitor activity in claim areas. But baggage theft hasn't been a high priority amid all the other airport security concerns.
It's the lack of responsibility for theft that leaves many customers fuming. Jack La Torre's daughter was rushing home to New York from graduate school at Stanford University in California with a medical condition affecting her hands. Since she couldn't carry anything, she checked her Mac Air laptop in her luggage. The computer never made it home.
Mr. La Torre, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who now works at Columbia University, pressed Delta to check security tapes and to waive Delta's exclusion of liability because of his daughter's condition.
The airline apologized, but said the stolen item should have been transported by other means. "We do not feel that compensation is in order," Delta said.
"What sort of protection do we have for the consumer?" Mr. La Torre asks.
Write to Scott McCartney at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Someone else reading

I found a reader online who is reading the manuscript now. Not the best way to get feedback, but the best I'm going to get at this point.

At the moment, I'm working through the remaining ten or so agents with my query letter in an effort to see if any of them want to read Toe the Line. Based on the writer's conference I attended, I should get one out of the ten to read it. Is that right? Or did he say one out of six. I don't know if I have much chance if it's one out of six! I'd be ecstatic with one of out six.

Regardless, I'm editing my previous novel. I figured with the up and coming birth of the next baby, starting a new novel would not be worthwhile. It will have to wait till next NaNoWriMo. So, I'm editing On the Edge. It's going well. Another long hard slog.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lana's Reading

I gave the manuscript to Lana to read, and brother, that was a mistake! I had planned on giving it to her so that she could read it while I was camping, but the camping trip was postponed (indefinitely postponed) so I was in town. I wish I had stuck the original plan and not been around. Isn't there some saying about the first instinct usually being right.

She started out well. She read the first two chapters in one night. I was watching Monday Night Football, so was not in the same room. It was bearable. Then Tuesday night, she didn't read it. I found myself wondering why she wasn't reading it. Was her crossword puzzle really that much more intriguing? Wednesday night, still didn't read it. Not till Friday night did she read it again. I was just at the point of having decided to take it away when WHAMO, she decided to read it again. My heart soared. My wifey had come through. Then Saturday night, back to the crosswords. Heart no longer soaring. I decided at that point that the experiment had run its course.

Here is a gal who usually reads books in two or three days and she had barely gotten through chapter three in a week. Not only that, but I found myself counting the number of other things she did on that long Thanksgiving holiday that did not include reading my book; crossword, cooking desserts, watching a new sitcom on Netflix by herself, her sewing craft and more. Each one was upsetting.

She asked me yesterday for a second chance. I demurred. I kinda found out what I needed to know. The biggest lesson I learned? Don't let the wifey read my gear.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finished the Reading

Well, I finished the final reading and edit, and I was mildly impressed with myself. I have been more pleased with what I read than I have ever been in the past. That's a good thing. I did find some rather startling errors, and I wish now I had not sent the manuscript out as I did back in June, July and August. Had I been an agent I would have rejected it as well.

I have made all of my edits in the manuscript and I asked Lana to read it for me. For future reference....this was a huge mistake. I doubt if I will ever do that again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Final Edit

I wrote this in my last revision and boy, I really like it.

As I sat in that little room watching her, listening to her, I felt an overwhelming urge to yell at her, to shake some sense into her, to hurt her for having put me through the last two years for her own uncertainty. The anger subsided and instead I sat and listened to her talk on about the problems that her mother’s decision had created in her life. At the time she left I knew she was suffering, but now, listening to her talk about her feelings over the last two years, I realized that the emotional storm that I saw when we first broke up had not been a tsunami that washed gently away. Madison’s anger had been like a Seattle rain, slow, ever-present, rarely gone for long. Eventually she did cry, but just a single tear, and that she wiped away quickly before she stiffened again; typical Madison.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Description of Wheeler

Though the reader never meets Wheeler while alive, I like the way I've tried to make him a fully fleshed out character. This is the first description of Wheeler's style that the reader gets.

Physically, Wheeler was one of the least gifted athletes I knew. The first time I saw him run I was astounded that someone with hips so wide and soft could possibly be a competitive athlete, he looked like a duck trying to waddle faster than nature intended. Though he might run like a bowling ball, that inelegance gave him momentum and kinetic energy that could beat racers with more athletic potential. He eschewed training and instead he treated everyday as if he was in his last race, as if death was following close behind him.

Opening Paragraph

Since I am not presently mailing the manuscript out, I'm going to post some lines from Toe the Line and my thoughts on them.

The line at the airport snack stand was too long and slow in moving so I turned around without getting the drink I wanted. Although I had plenty of time before the flight, waiting in an inhospitable line is not a way I like to spend my afternoon, or even thirty minutes of that afternoon. I walked with little purpose back toward my gate and looked up and saw Wheeler as he lay on the cheap, grey carpet, his head resting on his backpack. A small group of people looked down at him, their expressions worried expressions and confused. I thought absently of meerkats in Africa sticking their heads up above their burrows in search of predators.

I am still not thrilled with this opening. I think there is a chance of immediately losing the reader...but isn't that a chance that you face with anything? I hope at least that what I'm describing is something most people can relate to and read with a feeling of empathy. I wanted to be more descriptive, but felt being too descriptive bogged down the action of the first bit, and that would have been even worse. Strangely, I've always felt the meerkats analogy was silly, but when I read it as a part of the edit I liked it, so there it stays.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Edit

Well, I'm re-editing my novel, Toe the Line. After the agent from Atlanta sent back and edited version of my first three chapters, and the other agent from ICM passed on it, I've decided to go ahead and completely re-edit the entire work, reading it this time as I would a mass market mystery. I'm on chapter 4 right now and I have some thoughts.

First, the edit with Roger took out too much. The text moves to quickly. I find that I need to slow down and explain a bit more to the reader. So I'm trying to take my time a bit more.

Secondly, too much dialogue. I'm an advocate of show don't tell, but I think I've taken it too far. I show way too much. I'm finding that I am writing more telling in an effort to keep the readers mind in the story. I think it's better.

Lastly, and this is truly disapointing, I'm finding I am not impressed at all. If I was an agent that got this, I wouldn't buy it. So, note for future edits, PRINT THE WHOLE DAMN THING OUT AND READ IT AS A WHOLE. I've read that countless times, and I tried to do it, but in the future, it simply must be done. My edits and the corrections I am making are ten times better when I read it as if I was sitting down to read a mystery, and just make the corrections as they come.

More later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Been a While

Been quite a while since the last post, but that is due primarily to the fact that very little has happened regarding my being published. Been on hiatus as bit while Kate Lee reviewed my manuscript. Sadly, just this week, she got back to me with a "no."

I have about fifty agents left on my list. I'm thinking of pressing the pause button, reading my entire manuscript and make minor (or major if need be) changes, prior to trying these next fifty agents. This means however that I won't be able to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.

What with Lana's pregnancy, my decaying employement status, Muzzie's memoir, now this re-edit, I don't know if I can spare the time.

I'll update more later.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Great Post

Like this post, should come in handy when I'm writing the next one, or (sob) re-writing the one that's out now.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Character's Names

I have trouble with character's names. Hopefully this post will help me with this small part of writing.

For Toe the Line the main characters name was Wynn. For some reason I liked the name Winter. He was suppossed to be depressed and harsh. It was shortened to Wynn. Only later did I realize I was using the name Wynn for a guy who is a racer. Get it? Wynn a race? I'm thinking of changing it. I still like the name though.

Another problem I had was the character who dies, Wynn's best friend. His name started out being Weed. It was based on Weideman my old squad leader in the Army. It was a fitting name. He was like a weed, plucky, obnoxious, unyielding. One of my friends who read a draft said they couldn't stand the name. Weed became Wheeler.

Madison is a name I love. She's the aggressive female love interest in Toe the Line. It was only much later I realized that Mad, short for Madison (I never use a shortened version in the novel thank god) describes her natural state in the novel.

So I had Mad as the angry female character, and Wynn as the all star athlete. Too corny! Strangely I didn't plan that.

Maldo is the best name. The villain is Servando Maldonado. That's a superb villain's name. It's the name of my friend from the Army. It is also the name I use in every single story that features a villain. I'm determined to use it at some point in my publishing career if only so Maldo can read about himself as a villain in a book.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great List

Janet Reid posted a great list and a link to another list of questions to ask an agent prior to signing. I look forward to one day using this list.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not as Inured as I Thought

I received a partial manuscript in the mail today. Funny thing, since I only gave her a standard SASE, which meant she had to go out of her way to return it to me. She did this I suppose because she wanted me to see her edits.

This is the agent who sent me my query back with edits from a few weeks ago. I found it rather rude. Insightful but rude.

Nevertheless, I was surprised by how few edits she made. I had expected far more. I was also surprised by how subjective her edits were. She changed, "spoke sharply" to just "ask." Isn't that my call? Still in all, not as bad as I thought considering her letter.

She did not like my idea of framing mysteries around other sports and exercise activities similar to the way that Dick Francis' mysteries nipped at horse racing. "You cannot just jump from one sport to another each time" she writes. I can't? Perhaps that is what the reading public is waiting for.

Secondly, she writes: "Bottom line: the writing is fairly good, have never read your work as a whole, not as it appears on the screen, nor as it comes in sections out of the printer, but as a whole." Really? I thought I did. I suppose she's telling me to do it again, with a sharper eye.

And what's with the extended ellipses? Later in the letter she whips out seven question marks "????????" I was somewhat surprised she didn't use the ole ALL CAPS to get her point across.

I found the tone of her letter a bit sanctimonious to say the least. I'm thinking of editing it and sending it back. I have no problem with rejection, but I thought this was just rude rejection.

No Longer Really Notice

A bit of mission creep seems to have set in. I've become completely inured to the process of getting rejections. I no longer go to the mailbox with a sense of trepidation, instead it's just another part of the day. Rejections come and I "ho-hum" them as if they were coupon mailers.

Not sure if this is because I'm on a bit of a hiatus with the manuscript at ICM and I can't send it anywhere else, or if it has to do with the impending loss of my full time job. The larger issues in my life overwhelming the tracking of what still is a hobby.

I suppose this type of malaise is better than the alternative. An alternative where I would get revved up only to feel crushed when the rejections came.

Nevertheless, got five more rejections yesterday, hardly seemed to notice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

If I Ever Get a Positive Reponse

If I ever get a positive response, I'd like to impress them a bit with the amount of work I've already put into this project. Not just in terms of the writing, but also in terms of the marketing. One of those aspects is in the website marketing.

As I said, I registered for I'm developing a website to place there. As this will be a marketing site, I've started trying to design a cover for the book. Judge a book by the cover and all that.

I'm not completely pleased with this cover, but this is something I have envisioned for a long time. It's getting there. The lone runner trudging through the pacific northwest forest has some appeal. No color however.

I tried adding some color, I don't think I like it as much.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Workshop Notes

These are the notes and tips from the Workshop with David Liss. He also provided some titles that he felt demonstrated his writing techniques. Again, found it all quite insightful.

Plot vs Character
Don’t focus on plot. Character is what matters to readers. Readers only care about plot as it pertains to character.

What Makes Characters Interesting

Narrative energy, ABC – Always Be Conflicting, Characters must want something and have obstacles in their way preventing their getting it. Don’t make perfect characters.

Plot Twists

Plot twists are narrative gold. The more you can genuinely surprise the reader the better. Lead with plot twists as they are exciting.

Three Act Structure

Provides enough change to keep the story dynamic. Characters always need to be in movement.

Create Tension

Set up expectations then don’t fulfill them or deny them. Someone off doing something they shouldn’t be. The reader wants the action completed, delaying the expected action sets up tension.

Action at the Beginning of the Story

Action without character is boring. Action should always lead to character development. Openn with character. Once the reader cares about the character the action is more compelling.


Beat sheet major dramatic moments of the story. The more detailed your outline the less you’ll enjoy writing. Outline non-linearly. Plug in major parts then write to link them.


Paranoia by Joe Fender

Johnathon Strouper

Ghost Written by David Mitchell

For the Dogs by Ken Wignall

All is Vanity by Christina Schwartz

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heard Back From Liss

I received an email reply from David Liss. I contacted him about his claim of 10% to 20% success rate on queries. I argued that the prevalence of email and webform submissions where in the agent asks for a partial manuscript with the query would skew his statistics. He was unconvinced by my arguments and stands by his range.

He did however admit that he has little to no experience with webform or email submissions.

This being the case, and knowing that I would guesstimate that I've sent over 50 partial manuscripts with my query, and am still hitting close to 10% with my query, I'm still feeling pretty comfortable.

Based on what I've found, one facet of marketing a book is to build a website to promote it. It has always been my intention to do this. As I am helping a client develop and design a new website and need a place to park it, I signed up for a website yesterday with the thought that I would kill two birds with one stone.

I am now the owner of At the moment I have parked Roger's site there. Need to work on that some more.

Soon I expect to put up a mockup of Toe the Line, some excerpts, as well as the ability to buy one online. I have no idea what I will do if someone actually orders a copy, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Interesting Answer

There was a second interesting answer during the panel discussion. Someone asked about the particulars of sending a manuscript to an agent; something I have just done. The panelist said not to ask for the manuscript back as it would save on postage. Plus he said that it would most likely be in pretty sad shape, coffee stains in such.

Seems to me that it cost me more to get the thing printed than it did to send it. It cost $30 to print and $11 to send, another $11 to get return postage. I don't see how it adds up. Now, I did outsource the printing, but I can't imagine that the cost of paper and ink if I did my own printing would be much less?

I found it a poor answer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Went to a writers workshop today. According to the panel of published authors I am going about my querying a bit too aggressively.

One statistic that stood out was something that the host, David Liss said. His opinion is that you should have a 10 - 20% success rate on your query letter; if not something is wrong with your query. My success rate is just under 10%.

Couple of thoughts on this. I think that they were unaware of how pervasive emailing queries has become. When I emailed queries it was common to have the synopsis and a partial manuscript in the email. He was the youngest author and had queried agents 10 years prior. I think his success rate was a bit dated.

Sadly, the other's seemed to think they had heard of email queries but weren't sure if it was a popular method. My research shows a 60-40 tilt toward email queries.

More on the workshop in later posts.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Full Manuscript

I just sent away my manuscript to Kate Lee of ICM on an exclusive basis. It wasn’t as painful as I thought. In fact I was fairly and pleasantly surprised. The worst part about it was the cost, and half of that will be lessened the next time I send a full manuscript by mail.

It cost me approximately $30 to print the manuscript. I had already formatted the manuscript according to the accepted conventions, so it was as easy as uploading it to the FedExKinko’s website, then picking it up once they were done. Came in a nice little box too. I took that to the post office and told them I needed it to go to New York and have enough postage so that it could be sent back. $23 later it was all done. Assuming that Kate Lee sends it back, the next full manuscript shipment will only cost that $23 bucks. Not bad I say.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but from all of the worrying I’ve read about online and in other media, it seemed like it was going to be a huge ordeal. It wasn’t. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The problem of sending my manuscript to that agent on an exclusive basis has been solved. The agent I was hoping would accept my manuscript has passed on it.

Until she wrote back, I had no idea how much I was hoping she would accept it. It's funny how even when I try to detach myself from the selection process, I still get wrapped up in it. I just finished a book my brother loaned me, A Voyage for Madmen, about nine men who try to sail around the world alone without stopping.

One man, Donald Crowhurst, placed so many burdens and demands on himself that he found it impossible to quit. He was not a sailor, realized he was out of his league, and even thought about quitting, but never got to the point where he felt he could quit and not lose his family and his lifestyle. He faced a miserable end. He cheated on the trip, never circumnavigated the Earth, and on his return to England, just a few days shy of supposedly completing the trip, he killed himself out of shame for what he was about to do.

It's a good lesson for putting ones eggs in one basket. I hereby reaffirm not to "Crowhurst" myself during the process!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Exclusive Basis

Got another snail mail acceptance. This one was from an agent at an international agency, offices in LA, New York and London. It is interesting if only because this is the first time an agent has asked for the complete manuscript, printed, and on an exclusive basis. Naturally this brings up some problems.

I have sent partials to many agents already so I know that I’ll have to admit that somehow in the letter I write to her. But I have one full manuscript out as well. The agent with the full manuscript right now says she needs 4 weeks. It has been with her since the 8th. I should wait a week and a half more before contacting her.

I’m tempted just to send the full manuscript to this new agent and hope for the best. But what happens if the first agent comes back with a positive response? I’ve decided to go ahead and wait at least one more week, then contact that first agent, see where she’s at, and then send the manuscript to the second (exclusive) agent to read.

On her blog, Janet Reid wrote about how silly and time wasting exclusive readings are, in a posting called Exclusives Stink. I understand the dilemma. Despite her advice and the 50 or so comments from other writers, I’m still left with poor choices.

Still, I’m waiting for that agent to accept my work or ask for more after having read some. I’ve yet to get that type of positive feedback.

Monday, August 24, 2009

RIP is Easy Compared to Your Unit

The blog a Guide to Literary Agents has a series on “How I got my agent.” Its fun to read, gives some insight, and helps me keep motivated.

Today’s author, Billy Coffey, writes about how he found his agent. He mentions that prior to looking for an agent he thought the hard part of getting published would be finishing the novel. Not so. He says the hard part is finding an agent.

This reminds me of the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). We were told constantly how RIP is easy compared to the work we would be forced to do in our Ranger units. None of us believed it. RIP was three weeks of genuine hell. No food, no sleep, 20 mile forced marches at a sprint pace, early morning runs that left us devastated, constant, continually training, psychological games, an attrition rate above 50%, and running everywhere we went. SMOKER!

However, the Ranger Instructors (RI) were right. All the times they said “RIP is easy compared to what your unit will expect from you” were spot on. My first week in Bravo Company, I think day two or three, I found myself hanging outside a decrepit Huey, with all the gear no one else wanted to hump. My shoelaces were unlaced and I had no hope of getting down there and fixing them for at least two days, lost a good portion of my gear, my back ached from all the gear, a M203 that was a dinosaur compared to what privates use today, and my 1st gen nods, the worst in the squad, actually made the dark harder to walk through. We walked and rested (intermittently) for five days in the field. This was all training for an exercise in Louisiana that started the following week. It was a true trial by fire and by the end of it I was begging to go back to the easy days of RIP.

This is how I see the agent search going. Novel finishing is difficult, so far finding an agent hasn’t been a thrill, but each challenge is preparation for the next. Just like Basic Training, Infantry Training, Airborne and RIP were stair steps up toward a Ranger unit and going to Ranger School.

Good thing I have a history that includes success in these endeavors and now I know what to expect.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Grand Accounting

All of the receipts are now ensonced in the Partagas cigar box on my desk. Thus far I've spent a few cents over $135. Not bad I don't think. That's less than a dollar an agent. I spent almost $80 on stamps alone. The rest was for supplies and printer ink. So all in all, I need to budget approximately a dollar an agent.

I suspect as more and more agents begin to accept only email queries even that number will go down. At the moment I'm completely out of stamps and envelopes so will make sure I budget another hundred at least for the remaining 115 agents I plan to query.

Keep in mind, DO NOT use the "Fine Business Paper" envelopes from Office Max. This was the worst purchase of the ordeal. I've had countless SASE's returned with the flap open, and two with missing papers inside. It's embarrassing to write and agent and confess that a cheap envelope ruined their response, and could they please take a minute to let me know if they rejected me. Humbling to say the least.

A New Hope

You'll forgive the plagiarism of the title, but I have found new hope for my afternoons.

When I first began this process, when I first started to walk down to the mailbox each afternoon, 90 pound dog, Killian and 30 pound son, Price in toe, I couldn't find much reason to be hopeful. I'm sure we looked like some sort of outlandish parade, or worse yet a wake, marching to a maibox that provided no hope. If anything the mailbox provided a sense of closure, nothing more. I figured that if an agent liked my work they probably would forgo the SASE, and contact me via email. More direct, quicker, etc. That's what I would do if I were in their shoes.

But this latest pseudo acceptance has shown me that I was in error. This was the first SASE with an acceptance. So the mailbox doesn't just complete the circle and let me know that I have been rejected and by who. Instead it has become a new source of hope. The parade is a bit more lively as it makes its way to the mailbox each evening.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Word Count

Pleasant surprise yesterday, no rejections. No acceptances either, but at this point I'll take even the smallest victories.

Better surprise today, one acceptance. I'm still looking forward to that spectacular day when someone formerly accepts me and takes me on as a writer.

This acceptance was odd. The agent, in Atlanta (point against), marked up my query. First she corrected fiancee. It's a common mistake for me. One would think I'd look it up one day and put the matter to rest. I guess I should feel honored that was the only fault she found.

She also marked next to my word count the word "short". This is something I've had trouble with for the past couple of years. When I first started writing seriously in 2001, my first NaNoWriMo, the thinking was 50,000 words equals a novel. Then, as I did more research, and interacted a bit more I found out that for a first time author 125,000 words or over is impossible to sell. Anything under 50,000 as well, impossible. Uncle John's book was in the 40,000 area. The last Dick Francis I read, based on my investigation, came out to 76,000 words. I find it funny that there is such a high degree of discrimination from 68,000 to say 76,000.

One blog I was reading said that most agents won't touch a new author's book if it is under 70,000. I wonder if that has been a stumbling block for some that I've contacted.

I actually recognized this as a problem several months ago and tried to add to the story. I succeeded by adding about ten thousand more words. Now, thinking about where I might add more, I see one or two places, but no place that would allow me to add 10,000 more. Then, there is the problem of bogging down the story. Plus there is the edit. So many editors chop your work up so it is even less!

It's a pickle. I'd love to know more about it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


One of the biggest problems I find in plotting murder mysteries is coming up with an alibi for the murderer. It's not that easy to come up with a believable one.

I found this article about faking ones own death. Kinda interesting.

Yet Another

It's happening more and more regularly. When I started judging this contest I reveled in the fact that Toe the Line was better than most of the stories I read. Now, following the Vegas Story, the time travel and space elevator story, and now a new one about an abusive husband, I'm not so sure. These stories are so good they make me wonder what I'm doing trying to be published.

Thankfully I expected this to some degree. I expected that my story wouldn't be the best and steeled myself against the disappointment. Nevertheless its interesting to feel that worm beginning to crawl in my belly. What I find particularly amazing is that the ones that are exceptional are the ones I would never ordinarily read. The sci-fi stories I would have dismissed quickly if I saw them on the rack, and the abusive husband book is about a woman finding herself in purgatory and a grand war between satan and heaven. Again, no thanks. But after reading the first ten pages I would have gladly read more. I hope Toe the Line is like that.

I read in article in Writers Digest yesterday about an author who only became and author after he worked for years as a reader at an agency. He was amazed by how bad so many of the manuscripts were.

I've read 30 (?) novel starts, and there are 3 maybe 4 that are any good. That's what? 12%. If I am in that top 12% I'd be happy. I've sent 136 queries and had three yes replies? Two are still out. We'll see.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Best Yet

I have read approximately 25 entries. Most of them have earned scores in the 110 to 120 range. The best score a story can receive is a 150. Up until last night I only had two that came close to being top of the heap. They both scored high 130's to low 140's. I read two last night that blew all the rest away.

I'm not usually a sucker for fantasy for sci-fi. I had that era as a child where I read those genres but I grew out of it. Now, if I read fantasy or sci-fi, it has to come with a glowing recommendation from someone I trust. Bill recommended Snow Crash by Stehpenson and I'm glad he did. He also recommended anything by Vernor Vinge. Again, he pegged it. Pryor endorses George R.R. Martin, and now, so do I.

Last night, one author, apparent from the manuscript formatting and the tone, absolutely astounded me. His first work was based on time travel. The pace was a bit pedantic, but otherwise the story was superb. The plot too was outstanding. His second work, about a space elevator was even better. He scored a 142 for the time travel work and a 145 for the space elevator.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him take the whole contest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heart Stopping

I had my wife read three of the novel entries. Ostensibly I did this because I wanted to know if she had the same reaction to them that I did. She read them all, and they were three poor ones, poor is being kind. At the end of all three I asked her what she thought of them. She was nice about it, but you could kinda tell she wasn't too impressed. After she critiqued the third one, and she panned the third one the most, I asked her, "Which one was mine?"

Her mouth dropped open, her face fell, and she began to stammer and squeak silently. I immediately let her off the hook and told her none of them were mine.

However, I've already learned some vital aspects of reading novel segments. Those first ten pages are key. They have to be gripping and compelling and well written to a point that is absolutely beyond par. I'm a little worried about comparing my first ten pages to some of these.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Contest Entries

For a moment I hesitated in my decision about whether or not to post that last entry. Is it okay for me to write about someone else's entry, particularly if it is bad? What if that author comes to this blog and recognizes his story? I could end up ostracizing potential fans.

But I considered it this way. If JA Konrath, an author whose blog I frequent, was judging a contest and reported on Toe the Line I would want to read it. Even if he wrote:

"The dialouge is silly, and the relationships between the characters are ridiculous. The worst part is the author thinks I care about racing, but does little to make me care about. He should go back to his day job."

I would want to read that. Seriously. So now, I am going to post my impressions of the entries, relate them to my own experience, and HOPE that the author does eventually recognize his work. I hope it helps them.

Selfish Reasons

I have to admit, part of the reason that I was so eager to help Roger judge the contest entries is that I get to see how other people write and present novels. Basically, as a judge, I'm getting the same view of writing that an agent gets. I receive the first 10 pages and a synopsis. I'm curious to see how Toe the Line's synopsis and first 10 pages might compare.

I read my first entry this morning. With a bit of anticipation I whipped out the manuscript and dived in. Surprisingly, if only because I was hoping for the opposite, the writing was pretty good. The first chapter, very short, dealt with an old farmer in Arkansas, plowing a field. First person POV. He dies. I'm not escpecially interested in paranormal, but hey, I'm a judge, I read on with an open mind. The chapter ends, no conflict, no compelling reason to read on, but decent writing in terms of prose.

Chapter two is equally uncompelling. A woman wakes up in Texas on her ranch, fand for reasons not made clear through the writing, she goes and takes a leak outside. Her dog is far too interested in this action and I find myself screwing up my face in displeasure at the amount of detail the author affords this process. Eventually the lady goes for a long run, the author detailing her spandex running shorts throughout this segment, and eventually runs into of the ranch house guests. The dialogue, the first in the novel, is horrible and strained. It's the dialogue that would force me to drop this book if I had more than 10 pages. It is the last straw.

I read the synopsis. It is the most absurd plot I have ever imagined. Wrestler's training at the ranch, an intervention group hosting a session at the ranch, a guardian angel who helps the main character overcome death by teaching her how to do "ethereal pushups", its complete mush, and worst of all utterly uninteresting.

Were I an agent, I would have been hopeful when I was reading that it would get better, but the lack of conflict and the screw-ball plot would have forced me to pass quickly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


The hint fiction contest made me remember the short story contest I entered. I submitted two stories to the Houston Writer's Guild Fall Contest. I hope I win, I doubt it though. Murder in 213 is hard to read, and Fight for Life is just too gory. Still, fingers crossed.

Roger, the president of the guild, wants my help judging the novel entries. Ergo, Roger has faith in my abilities as a writer and editor and thinks I can do a good job, or he needs any warm body he can find.

Flattered either way.

Hint Fiction

Saw this via JA Konrath's blog . . . Hint Fiction. Stories of 25 words or less. Here are last year's winners.

First place winner:
HOUSE HUNTING by Gary A. Braunbeck
The fence is tall. Good. The mother is typical white-trash, too loud. But the kids … they seem frightened and quiet. Good. Easier that way.

Second place winner:
DEPARTURE by Donora Hillard
The terminal is unkind. You watch me go through security. In six months, you’ll say “Tell me about the nightmare,” and I promise I will.

Third place winner:
PROGRESS by Joe Schreiber
After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

Honorable Mentions:
PEANUT BUTTER by Camille Esses
He was allergic. She pretended not to know.

THE MALL by Robley Wilson
What he liked best about the affair was not the shopping, but parting the tissue wrap to remove the clothing that had first enticed her.

A SNAP DECISION by Jamie Felton
Her finger tapped against her teeth, “I don’t think it’s going to work.” He sank slowly underneath the surface. She could still see his eyelashes.

Submissions will open August 1 and close at midnight Eastern time August 31. Submit only to this address:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Death in a Mystery

Notice please the singularity of the title. I didn't write "Deaths in a Mystery." This is a problem i realized I had at about four this morning. I have one death in Toe the Line, and that murder takes place a moment before the book actually begins. This could be problematic.

I always liked the fact that a main character was murdered before page 1. I thought it would be neat for the reader to get to know this main character through the way the others spoke about him. This way the mystery in the novel is not just about who killed him, but who he was.

Well, I realized last night that I only have that one murder! I've just started J.A. Konrath's book, Bloody Mary, and he has already had about eight people dead or dying in the first hundred pages. I have 68,000 words and not a single death.

Toe the Line does have the mystery I described above, as well as the murderer chasing, (hunting rather) the protagonist throughout the Seattle area. Is that enough to sell the book? I don't know. We'll see I suppose. In the mean time I'm going to let my mind chew on the idea that there may need to be two or three other deaths in the book.

Monday, August 10, 2009

First True No

I looked up Firebrand Literary today and saw that they were out of business. What is interesting about that is that one of the agents at Firebrand requested my manuscript a few weeks back.

I thought about writing her to see if the closing of Firebrand affected my manuscript review at all. I didn't write.

She wrote me this evening. Nope! She was hoping for something more fast paced. "It's well done, with clear prose and a nice sense of the characters, but I'm afraid I wanted a slightly faster pace and I just didn't fall in love with the protagonist."

Better that nothing I suppose.

Snail vs eMail

There is only really one moment each day when I get my hopes up, only to have them dashed, regarding snail mail queries. That instance occurs when I walk to the mailbox each afternoon. With some degree of trepidation mixed with expectation I look in the little grey box for my SASE's.

e-Queries are far more insidious. I find myself constantly checking my email to see if I have gotten any mail. It's minor shots of depression stretched out throughout the day. Makes for a very long day.

It is for this reason that I am overwhelmingly happy that I decided to send more snail mail than email queries. At least with snail you get a response and the heart rending only occurs once a day.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Done for the Moment

I made it to 132 queries before the pause. I've decided that since I'm out of envelopes, out of stamps, out of printer ink, and running short on names of agents that I would press pause and wait and see what those 132 queries brings.

Give the mail some time to arrive, give the agents time to read, give the partials time to be read. 132 isn't bad, just 118 more to go before I decide Toe the Line is in serious trouble. Just 118 more before I get an agent? Either way, not a bad first drive. Let's see what it brings.

I'm looking forward to doing a quick audit on the cost of these 132. I've kept all the receipts so that I might be able to deduct it later. I'm interested in seeing how much it all cost to date.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rigid Rules

One aspect of this process I find interesting is the querying rules. Agents all have their own specific sets of rules about how to query, and for the most part I follow them exactly. I believe this comes from my work as a proposal writer. One aspect of that job that I enjoyed was the fact that the format was set in stone. We had to follow the RFP guidelines to the letter, even if it seemed counter intuitive. I find myself doing the same with these queries. I would imagine, having been on both sides of the proposal process, that many writers don’t follow the instructions as precisely. I think I would find that irksome as an agent.

If I, an agent, specifically told a writer to query me in a certain way, it wouldn’t automatically disqualify them, but I would sure begin reading their work with a different mindset.

But what I find interesting is that there is no set standard for query replies. I received to rejections yesterday. One of them came on nice letter head and was typed, TYPED like on a type writer, quite formally. That was the best rejection yet. Surprisingly, on the day that I get my best rejection, I also get my worst. This rejection came from an agent who didn’t even bother to use her own paper. She wrote “Not for us” at the top of my query and placed my own query back into my SASE. Great for recycling and being green, but still, kinda lazy and cheap if you ask me.

If a writer goes through all the trouble that I do, using resume paper, printing out the agents name and address on the letter, printing a nice SASE, stamps on everything, I would at least expect a form letter in response.

Interestingly the best rejection I’ve gotten was a hand written note from an agent in New York. She had scrawled in cursive on the note, “Sadly, not quite right for me. But good luck! Thanks for the query.” Then she signed her name.


I received yet another request for a full manuscript. This is a positive development as I stated before, but still I have yet to hear from any agents who have already read my writing. This is a bit disconcerting.

When I started this process I was sure that Toe the Line was a decent novel. Sure it could have used another edit or two, but still, compared to some of the other novels I have read it wasn’t too bad. Also, I’ve been in some writing groups, and it seemed to me that my novel was as good if not better than some of the material I was reading in those groups. I thought for sure that Toe the Line could hold its own if that was my competition.

Now, a month or so into this query process, and having heard from no agents who have actually read some sample chapters I’m beginning to doubt myself. I find myself wishing I had undergone another re-write. I find myself wishing that Body Count was done so I could sent that around. It’s a funny loss of confidence. It’s taken 5 weeks to lose it, like gravel on a trail rolling down the hill. My trail is now far less substantial than it was back in July.

Still in all, three requests for full manuscript is better than none. I still look forward to hearing more from someone who actually reads my sample chapters and wants to read more.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Center of Gravity

My great uncle, John Hannah, has just published his fourth book, Center of Gravity.

This is a guantlet in my face more than his previous attempts. His first book was Creative Fishing, a collection of short stories about adventures he has had in his fishing career. Apparently it was the first of a series, the second book was More Fishing, or something to that affect.

His third book was historical fiction, The Book of James. It chronicled the life of one of my ancestors when he came over to the U.S. from Scotland.

This book, Center of Gravity, is a murder mystery. I was over at my grandfather's a few weeks ago and he happened to be there as well. I mentioned my own murder mystery, Toe the Line. Two months later a package arrived in the mail for me. Inside was Center of Gravity by John Tweed Hannah and a note that said, "I look forward to reading your own mystery."

Well, that was certainly a kick in the pants to say the least.

The Next One

So, I figure if I'm going to be a successful writer I need to be as productive as possible. That means I have to already get moving on the editing of my next mystery novel.

I wrote Toe the Line during the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2007. I have just now finished editing it. I would like to say that I am now editing the manuscript I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2008, but it is just so bad I can't.

Body Count was written after I wrote a short story about a guy who snipes and tortures his father-in-law. I actually wrote two short stories, one from the pov of the killer, the other from the pov of the investigator.

I wrote the Body Count novel from the pov of the investigators and it is horrible. I think I also wrote it in 3rd person. Now that I'm looking over it again, I've decided I have to do a complete re-write. It's going to be a long process to say the least.

However, I will say this about Body Count; it is a far more intricate and I believe compelling story than Toe the Line is. I'd much rather be selling it than Toe the Line. If I don't find an agent in the next year and a half, I just might be.

Second Request for Full Manuscript

I got my second request for a full manuscript this morning. Waking up to a letter asking for the synopsis and full manuscript is far superior to waking up to a mailbox full of rejections.

This most recent one is from a lady named Christine Witthohn. Her agency is BookCents in Charleston, WV. That's a little disconcerting. There is a running debate about agent location. Many people think you have to have an agent in New York or Los Angeles. It's a good argument. Location and face time is important.

However, beggars can't be choosers. I'll take anyone who likes my writing at this point. I'm just happy that someone is interested in the novel.

Next step, having someone who actually has read my sample request to see more.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


You kinda set yourself up for rejection when you send out so many queries. When reading JA Konrath's blog, he said he sent out almost 250 queries before he got a positive response. I'm at 115. I guess I should get ready for more disappointment. I figure if I get 250 "no's" it's time for a re-edit and another impartial read through for some ideas.

The worst part is waking up I see rejections in my inbox, going to the mailbox, I come away with rejections, sitting at the computer at night, I find a rejection. If nothing else, at the end of this I should have a thicker skin.

Query Shark

I believe that Query Shark ( was created and administered by Janet Reid. Miss Reid, an agent, is notorious because just ten minutes ago she became the most recent editor to send me a query rejection. Well, just two minutes ago she should have recieved my query again, this time as a submission to Query Shark.

Query Shark, in the form of Miss Reid, reads and disects queries for writers. I'm wondering if she rejected me for the idea or for the query. We shall soon find out.

Had I known she was responsible for Query Shark (or that Query Shark existed) I would have sent it to Query Shark prior to sending my query to her. Sadly I got the order back-assward.

Best Line

Many agents take advantage of web technology and have writers submit online. They usually ask for quite a bit of information via a web form or email. Although I like the email option more, as it allows me to include what I want, one web form stuck out.

I think it was for an agency with the name "park" in it. As I recall the agency had many pictures of Central Park in it. Sadly my spreadsheet isn't specific enough to help me narrow this down. Nevertheless, one of the questions in the webform was "sample line" or "favorite line".

I knew exactly which line to send. Chapter 1, page 5 of Toe the Line. I was trying to express to the reader how out of sync and confused Wynn, the protagonist was.

"I felt the world flowing past me like a flooded river, caught up in the raging water like a piece of debris, drifting along wherever the current took me."

I hope it strikes the agent as much as it did me.

Query Letter

August 4, 2009

Kevan Lyon
Marsal Lyon Literary Agency LLC
PMB 121, 665 San Rodolfo Dr. 124
Solana Beach, CA 92075

Dear Miss Lyon,

Wynn Johnston, an elite level triathlete who promotes his bike store by racing in other cities with his business partner, Wheeler, finds himself stranded in Seattle following Wheeler’s murder in the Seattle airport. As the police begin to investigate, they find reason to suspect Wynn’s involvement in the murder. The only people Wynn can turn to are his ex-fiancĂ©, Madison and her father.

As Wynn deals with the death of his long time friend, he begins to discover that Wheeler was involved in many illegal plots that put Wynn’s life and livelihood at risk. As he continues to delve into the conspiracy around Wheeler’s death, he is forced to come to terms with Madison and her father as well as evade the murderer who is hunting him through Seattle and the Northwest. Wynn’s investigations yield more questions about Wheeler, fewer answers to clear up the conspiracy, and more and more deadly attempts on his and Madison’s lives.

Toe the Line is a 68,000 word mystery in a mold similar to Dick Francis or Robert B. Parker, but with a theme that revolves around multi-sport racing and fitness. Filled with engaging characters, scenic backgrounds from the Pacific Northwest, and an insider’s look into the life and training of a triathlete this novel provides an intriguing adventure while opening new worlds to readers. The popularity of fitness programs and local racing events has risen in the past several decades and continues to grow as the advantages of a healthy lifestyle and fitness regimes become more apparent. Toe the Line offers readers a mystery woven into this lifestyle and includes a peak into a racer’s life within this community.

Although not published outside the realm of technical manuals, I do attend several writing groups and work with a local editor. I am actively seeking an agent for this book and am contacting several agencies, but I believe this is a good match for your agency and have included a synopsis and sample pages. I look forward to sending you my complete manuscript.


Dick Hannah

The Novel

So the novel for which I'm trying to find representation is entitled Toe the Line. 68,000 words, light cozy mystery. It's not my best work, but it is the best I got so far. I'm hoping my next novel, Body Count, will be better, but it is still mired in production.

Nevertheless, I'm applying many of the lessons I've learned via the Writer's Market, several different blogs, and other venues to try and find an agent. The novel is complete and edited. At the moment I'm querying.

Thus far I've queried 115 times both through the web and through snail mail. My spreadsheet that tracks my queries is getting quite out of control. I started querying on July 20. I've sent 115 in less than a month. I think that is pretty aggressive.

I have screwed up a few times. I can count on one hand the number of times I've misspelled an agents name (Rubio instead of Rubie) or accidently written to two agents at the same agency, but all in all I've not done too bad.

I've gotten one positive response. 115 queries, about 18 rejections and one request to read the manuscript. Inside I'm thrilled, but tentatively thrilled.

The positive response came from Firebrand Literary Agency, specifically Stacia Decker. I think she is building her client list. I can only hope that I become a brick in that foundation.

First Post - Quick Intro

Please note that the title of this blog is "Hannah Tries to Get Published", or "Publishing Adventures" or any other type of ambiguous pablum. Nope, I'm taking Elana's advice and using a bit of the old power of positive thinking.


(See it's in all-caps so I must really mean it)

Sadly, it might not be this novel, Toe the Line, that opens that door for me, but I will. And it is my intention to update this blog everyday (or atleast every week) until I do.

So check back often, and I'll let you know what it takes to get a mediocre mystery novel published.