Fearless Querying: Learning to Love the Query Letter

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 08:30 pm
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Posted by Guest Column

I fell in love with The Beatles when I was a boy. I loved every song on every album, except one song—Paperback Writer. Mind you, it was driven by a great guitar riff and was toe-tappingly catchy, but the lyrics were too painful for my eight-year-old heart to bear. If you’re unfamiliar, the entire song is a letter to a publishing house asking—no begging—a “Sir or Madame” to read this aspiring author’s book. Though I did not yet know I would pursue a book-writing career as an adult, I could already feel my loathing for the strange form of communication that is the query letter.

This guest post by William Kenower . Kenower is the editor in chief of Author magazine, a sought-after speaker and teacher, and the author of FEARLESS WRITING. He’s been published in The New York Times and Edible Seattle, and was a featured blogger on the Huffington Post. His video interviews with hundreds of writers, from Nora Ephron to Amy Tan to William Gibson, are widely considered the best of their kind on the Internet. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author, where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.

Twenty years later, after finishing my first novel and realizing I needed a literary agent, I discovered my feelings about the query letter hadn’t changed one bit. I didn’t like anything about the experience of writing one. I didn’t like not knowing the person to whom I was writing, I didn’t like summarizing my big, delicious novel in two paragraphs, and I especially didn’t like needing this person to like my book. This is selling, and I am not a salesperson; I am a writer. So I held my nose and wrote the query, and the results were predictably disappointing.

I used to think I was more or less the only one who felt the way I did about the query letter, but I have since learned that I was far, far from alone. I also used to think the problem with query letters was their form: It seemed inherently dishonest and manipulative. I was taking this thing I loved and turning it into an advertisement—and I didn’t like advertisement. I ignored them if I could. However, I have since learned that my distaste for queries had nothing to do with the form or the intent of the letter, but the actual, butt-in-the-seat experience of writing one.

You see, it doesn’t matter whether I’m writing a poem, an essay, a novel, or a query letter, the moment I begin trying to get into my reader’s head I feel lost and confused. I have absolutely no idea what other people like. For instance, I am still a little surprised every time I learn that someone else loves The Beatles, even though for a time about half the planet seemed to love The Beatles. Other people’s likes and dislikes remain that mysterious to me, and can certainly provide no guidance for the unmarked path along the blank page. Regardless of the form, I must trust my own curiosity and imagination to guide me through anything I write, even a query letter.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

So the only way to enjoy writing a query letter, and indeed to write the best query letter possible, is to forget completely about the agents to whom I am writing. I must forget about selling my book, forget about the market and what I have or haven’t published prior. Instead, I must remember the book I wrote. I must remember how much I love it.

And while I may not know you, and I may not know what you like to read or write, I know that if you wrote a book, you love it. You may be shy about admitting it, but it’s still true. You love it because you spent six months or six years writing it, and you never would have finished that book if you hadn’t thought it was cool, funny, sexy, profound, or exciting. To write a query letter, we must all first remember why we wanted to finish our book, why we first thought the world needed a book like this.

Most importantly, I must go back to that place from which the book came. It’s the same place your book came from. It’s a place you can’t describe to anyone else, a place you can’t name and are perhaps embarrassed to talk about; but you know this place well, this trustworthy, creative garden. It has been a friend to you as long as you have known it, and it is meant to serve you in anything you create. Go back there, and as you sit down to write a query letter, remember why you loved your book and why you wrote it, and let the query letter be another opportunity to share what you shared in the book.

The discomfort I used to feel crafting a query was just insecurity. But insecurity is not weakness; it is not a personal flaw. Rather, it is the very instructive experience of looking for my confidence where it isn’t. It is instructive because it is uncomfortable. If it were comfortable, I might keep doing it. Fortunately, the moment I look to anyone to tell me the value of me work, I feel miserable. It’s as if I wouldn’t allow myself to love The Beatles if my friend didn’t love them just as much as I did. The moment I decide my love for what I’ve written is enough, that I need not read other people’s mind to share my work with them, I am resting in my inherent confidence.

That’s all creative confidence is: deciding your curiosity and imagination are enough. Query letters can seem like an invitation to believe otherwise, but they aren’t. After all, agents want to represent cool, funny, sexy, profound, exciting books. They want to love your book. But they won’t love it unless you remember why you love it while you write you query. That’s your job. That’s always your job. Find something you love, and share it, share it, share it. You know how to do that. You’ve always known how to do that, and once you believe that’s enough, you’ll be able to write absolutely anything, even query letters.

(Note: Query letters do follow a bit of a formula. If you’re not sure what that formula is, I recommend this article.) 

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The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Freese-HeadshotIf you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.



The post Fearless Querying: Learning to Love the Query Letter appeared first on WritersDigest.com.


Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 09:58 pm
selenak: (Londo and Vir by Ruuger)
[personal profile] selenak
This week, Potterdom had its twentieth anniversary. I always felt somewhat on the periphery of the fandom - I enjoyed the books and read some of the fanfic, I did have some opinions and theories while the books were published, but I never felt compelled to write fanfic myself, I didn't ship anyone with anyone else, and I don't think I had a Harry-Potter-related argument with anyone. Oh, wait, I think I did argue, but only in one post, about how whoever sorted the Beatles into HP houses and put John in Slytherin and Paul in Gryffindor was completely wrong, and then I wrote some silly meta fic to prove it. But other than that.

Anyway: I'm still fond of the books and some of the fanfic, and so I was delighted to see [profile] fernwithy celebrated the anniversary by writing a story about Harry shortly after Voldemort's death, trying to figure out where to go from there, and, not so coincidentally, what to do with Grimmauld Place 12, which as you'll recall Sirius left him, co-starring Kreacher and Andromeda Tonks, with cameos for Dudley and Petunia Dursley,


It captures grief, survivor's guilt, empathy, hope so very, very well.

Meanwhile, I just found there's this lovely bit from the last convention which both Stephen Furst and Peter Jurasik attended:

Boo on the cheapness of Warner Brothers, but aww on these two.

Comment on Brainstorming blockages by sml

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 06:31 pm
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Posted by sml

For me, I think it’s more that I know how to find info for the easy parts, which is part of what makes them easy….

A couple of things that have worked for me (ymmv) in finding a resolution for various stories:

Endings=Beginnings, both in the sense that the ending of the story could match the beginning in some way, where match can mean be the same (monster killed, status quo restored) or be the opposite (rags to riches, farm boy to emperor), and also that the story can stop easily where another story starts (wedding, coronation, new life of X, goal W achieved). It might help to have a list of what needs to be resolved, or what you want resolved in what way.

Climax=the mountain, possibly inverted. Everything that can go wrong should all be piling up, or dragging down. It might help to look at the opposition in the story and give them the Best Day Ever, which hopefully is terrible for your character(s). Alternatively, show off character Y. e.g. character has grown because can now do Z that they initially would have failed at.

Hope this helps

Comment on Brainstorming blockages by Deep Lurker

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 01:29 pm
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Posted by Deep Lurker

My trouble seems to be that I generally have a situation that’s not really a dramatic situation. (“Character shops for new clothes on an alien planet.”) I can brainstorm or otherwise come up with ways to make my initial situation into something more dramatic. (“Debit card gets unaccountably locked.” “Alterations promised ‘to fit human women’ don’t.” “The highly-recommended store has shut its doors and gone out of business.”) But after that, working out a resolution almost always turns out to be a bridge too far.

Or as I grumbled in a comment on the earlier post: Brainstorming gives me a fast forced-growth of my usual barnacles. I get setting and character and story-start barnacles, but dang-near nothing for story-climax and story-ending barnacles.

Similarly when I do web searches for “story prompts.” I find loads and loads of sites with “Here are some ideas for starting a story!” But I don’t need that (usually). What I need are prompts and kick-starts for the climax and ending parts.

But maybe that’s Hard for everyone, not just me. Which would explain why help with the Easy parts is so easy to find but help with the Hard parts is hard to find.

Brainstorming blockages

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 11:00 am
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Posted by Patricia Wrede

“The best ideas don’t need to be sought out at all; you just have to train yourself not to swerve out of the way when they jump out in front of you.” – Jon Forss

Brainstorming is a mental activity, so it is unsurprising that most of the things that disrupt it are mental difficulties. A lot of them boil down to fear:  fear of not getting ideas, fear of “doing it wrong,” fear of failure, fear of success, fear of clichés, fear of wasting time, fear of regimentation, fear that no one will like the story, fear that the results will be embarrassingly bad.

The thing is, brainstorming is not a success/failure technique. There is no right way or wrong way; like writing, it’s what works or what doesn’t, and “what works” is different for every writer and every book. If you can’t manage to let go of whatever you are afraid of, try tricking yourself – doing it for practice (and then using whatever good stuff turns up, so that it won’t be wasted). Or switch methods from spiderwebbing to freewriting or list-making, or make adjustments and adaptations to your method to suit your personal style (some suggestions below). An remember, an unused idea is not necessarily the same as a useless idea.

The second biggest difficulty is usually escalation of either expectations or consequences. People build up an idea in their heads of the brilliant things that will follow a “successful” brainstorming (a perfect plot in ten minutes! No more thinking necessary!), or they come up with a horrific list of negative consequences that will result from a “failure” (clichés! Imagination burnout! Loss of creativity!). Either one is intimidating enough to put them off; both together make a lot of people refuse to play with the technique at all.

Brainstorming is a technique to encourage lateral thinking. It’s not a cure for what ails your manuscript, and it’s not an evil system for producing generic stories. If the results are horrible, you can always throw them away. If it totally doesn’t fit your brain, you can adapt it or use some other technique. Expectations – good or bad – are things you are doing to yourself.

There are a bunch of ways to adapt the basic spiderweb, freewriting, and list-making techniques to give them a little extra oomph. Using a picture as the center of your brainstorming spiderweb can give it new spin – a photo of someone who looks like one of your characters, or a montage of places and people and actions that “feel right.” The particularly kinesthetic can try role-playing, either to work out a troublesome scene, or perhaps playing one of the characters explaining the whole adventure after-the-fact to a college classmate over drinks.

Temporarily changing the intended media can give you a new outlook. What would the story be like if you wrote it as an epic poem? What has to change/be added/be subtracted if you write it as a movie script or a comic book? As a series of haiku?

Assume you are a newspaper reporter who will be interviewing one of your characters, and make up the interview questions. Then decide which ones the character would refuse to answer, which he/she thinks are stupid or irrelevant or misguided, and which ones he/she will exaggerate or lie outright about and why. Take your character(s) on a mental trip to your favorite bar, mall, or ethnic restaurant and see if you can get them to drop hints (“This food is so much better than that time in Eritrina!” “That’s because you were in the dungeons there, not eating at a fancy restaurant.”). Some of what you find out will appear to be plot-irrelevant, like the character’s favorite color, how spicy they like their food, or what their hobbies are, but again, the point of brainstorming is to pile up a large heap of information, not to sort it into plot-relevant and not-plot-relevant right off the bat.

If you like the spiderweb, but can’t get past the central topic, there are two ways of kick-starting things. The first is the old reliable Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How: from “who” you spin out all the characters you know and maybe some more you’ve just invented or folks who could possibly be in the story/scene; for “what,” you spin out the type of book (mystery, fantasy, thriller, fantasy-mystery, SF-romance…) and then the kinds of things that you think ought to or could happen in it, “when” and “where” are time and place, “how” can be anything from proto-plot-points like “go on a quest” to story structure (“circular, multiple POV”). Don’t be afraid to put down stuff you already know.

(If you’re really good at coming up with a character’s backstory, start your brainstorming ten or twenty years after the book you are writing, so that your current project has become the future-characters’ backstory. Or look at the story from an unusual viewpoint – the sidekick’s mother-in-law, or the villain’s rebellious teenaged son.)

The other kick-start works best if you have a situation but can’t figure out how to progress from there. Make the situation the center of the spiderweb (“George accused of stealing painting.”) Then make a list of five or six people – imaginary characters or real-life ones – who are REALLY different from each other, like Darth Vader, Xena Warrior Princess, Mahatma Gandhi, Hermione Granger, Donald Trump, Cleopatra. What would each of them do if they were in George’s place? Kill the accuser, hire a lawyer, bribe someone to provide an alibi, start solving the mystery on his/her own, seduce the accuser and/or the cop…now you have the start of a first ring of possible things that George could do, even if most of them aren’t things he would do. The “would he do it” part comes later, in next week’s post.

[syndicated profile] janetreid_feed
I would like to think that all my works have international reader-appeal, but I am originally from England, currently live in Australia and have two completed creative NF WW2 stories (a PB and an 8+/YA) that have English main characters, and a creative historical biography in progress that’s set in London. While they will be submitted to Australian publishers, I have a feeling that a UK publisher could well be most likely to make an offer. I also have five ‘normal’ picture book texts completed for any readership and one that is distinctively Australian. Would you advise attempting to partner with an Australian agent, one in the UK and one in the US? Do most US agents have co-agent partners in the UK for stories that will probably find a first home there, rather than for a sale of rights after initial release in America?

You don't want or need multiple agents.
You need ONE agent who will do multiple deals.

What you don't know is that the Australian publisher will most likely want the right to publish in English around the world. That's called "World English" That then means the Aussie publisher controls the rights for the UK and the US.

You wouldn't have anything for a UK or a US agent to sell. (An Australian publisher would generally not engage a US agent to sell rights; they'd do it directly.)

Whereas if you have ONE agent, they will strategize about which publisher is best suited for your work and which territory they're best suited to exploit.

World English has some very tricky aspects and you do not want to just assume that everything will work out.

Any questions?

How I Got My Agent: Debut Novelist Diksha Basu

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Column

As I finished my MFA at Columbia University, I ventured out into the world armed with a manuscript and prepared to search for an agent. The world of query letters and agent research is daunting and exhausting, and after just a few rejections, I was quickly giving up hope.

This guest post is by Diksha Basu. Basu is a writer and occasional actor. Originally from New Delhi, India, she holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and now divides her time between New York City and Mumbai.

Her debut novel, THE WINDFALL, is now available wherever books are sold.

Instead of completely surrendering, I decided to ask for help from faculty members who knew my work well. I had taken a few classes with David Ebershoff and I emailed him asking for advice. David immediately replied with a list of agents he thought would like my work and suggested I query them specifically.

I did and I was fortunate enough to get more than one offer for representation. The offers followed similar patterns—an editorial note with an offer to continue the conversation on the phone. Then, after a long and useful call, an in-person meeting—either over lunch or in an office.

At this point, when I had more than one offer, I asked a published writer friend for advice and she said to pick an agent who didn’t intimidate me. As I tend to do, I ignored the well-meaning advice completely and picked the agent who intimidated me the most, and I am so glad I did. Adam Eaglin at the Elyse Cheney Agency intimidated me enough that I knew I wouldn’t miss deadlines. Of course that wasn’t the only criterion. Right from our first email interactions, Adam also seemed to really understand my work: he was supportive while also being critical when necessary, and his feedback transformed how I saw my book.

Over the next two years, I worked closely with him to turn my collection of stories into a novel. Adam is a very involved agent who patiently reads drafts and responds with detailed editorial feedback. In addition to his editorial role, Adam seems to know how to handle my personality well while giving me feedback—he knows when I’m starting to fade and need encouragement.

It’s been almost three years now that I’ve been working with him and he’s become a friend along the way, in addition to being my agent. Although, come to think of it, I don’t hear him call me a friend quite as often as I do.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.57.50 PM

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Freese-HeadshotIf you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.



The post How I Got My Agent: Debut Novelist Diksha Basu appeared first on WritersDigest.com.

Exclusives, the Dorian Gray topic

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 11:00 am
[syndicated profile] janetreid_feed
I am putting together a query plan, and one of the agents I'd like to query (because she has sold books similar to mine) has the following requirements:

- she accepts queries by snail mail only (50 pages plus synopsis plus SASE)
- if she requests a full, her site says, "we require one-month exclusivity"

I am of course hoping that agents will swarm over this book like sharks over chum, so where do I put this agent in the plan? I'm leaning toward dead last so her exclusivity requirement doesn't cause me issues, but again there's that whole "has sold books like mine" thing. Plus she'll receive the query later than the e-query agents (which is all the rest) so perhaps I'll already have an agent by the time she contacts me. (Heh. I am hilarious.) But if not, if others have the full, what do I say to her? If I tell her others have it and then later tell her she can have the exclusive, that tells her nobody else wanted it. Which isn't information I necessarily want her to know.
I'm sure you know my position on exclusives. They stink.
And a month is just ridiculous.

I wonder if she conducts all her business by snail mail?

Which is not to say I haven't thought about going back to written queries. I miss the paper and the ink. And I like to read on paper. And I think I read more carefully on paper.

But I also miss civilized air travel, actual card catalogs, and Cary Grant, but we're not getting those back either.

I digress.

If you want to query her, you abide by her guidelines regardless of what we think of them. You query on paper. If she requests the full, you send it to her only if you can give her the exclusivity she asks for OR if you write back to her request for the full and say other people have it, but you're glad to send if she still wants it.

Guidelines are not an indication of character. They're intended to help you send your work in the way that makes it easiest for the agent to read and consider it. If she wants her queries on paper, so be it.  If you elect to query her last, that's a reasonable prioritization.

Handling the Risqué Parts of Writing Romance

Monday, June 26th, 2017 09:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Column

I’m a Sardinian-Brit author born and bred in London. When it comes to food and all things family I am a thoroughbred Sardinian; I over feed and am fiercely protective. I love a table heaving with people and conversations zapping at oblique interjections across vats of homemade pasta and farm fresh cheese.

This guest post is by Sara Alexander. Alexander graduated from Hampstead School in London and went on to attend the University of Bristol, graduating with a BA hons. in Theater, Film & TV. She followed on to complete her graduate diploma in acting from Drama Studio London. She has worked extensively in the theatre, film, and television industries, including roles in much loved productions such as Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Dr. Who, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Sparrow. UNDER A SARDINIAN SKY is her first novel.

When it comes to matters of a more intimate nature, my British upbringing rears its ever so polite head. Approaching the explicit scenes in my novel, Under a Sardinian Sky, took some work. I had to stop myself circumnavigating the more graphic content. Neither are Sardinians known for their demonstrative natures, nor are they particularly open about sex and the rudimentary mechanics of it. They sing about lost loves—passionate, ancient songs that are featured in the book, which are an important part of the culture. This acapella music is performed by male choirs. Their deep voices never fail to bring me to tears at about measure two.

I remember sending a chapter by my agent for some incisive feedback. I won’t pretend I’d hidden in a Sardinian cave emerging with a written masterpiece in hand. I won’t forget my agent’s direct advice: Be more explicit. When it came to the sex scenes, I first grasped at every flowery word in the book. I baulked at describing the scene with plain honesty. I was so fearful of descending into smutty porn that I threw myself in a weak direction. Some weeks later, tangled with words and possibilities, I realized readers would rejoice in the lovers consummating their feelings if I was open about how the main character was feeling too. I tried to strip down the language so that their physical interaction was not over layered. When the focus shifts inwards—on the characters’ feelings—that was my chance to expand toward the more poetic.

I didn’t shirk explicit scenes. The pivot for a love story is complicit intimacy between two people. I don’t think there’s anything sexier on the planet than the quiet centre of passion, that peaceful nothingness, the silence within the spark, a place where the bodies cease to be only physical, but become a gateway into sensations beyond our frame. You can roll your eyes at my flight of fancy (many do, especially the more pragmatic in my circle), but when tackling the deep interaction between two people, their emotional states must lift them and the readers.

When my husband read the more explicit scenes he was surprised at how openly I had dealt with them. He felt a twinge of embarrassment at the idea of his mother reading it, or her contemporaries (other octogenarians). This preceded a passionate debate about the notion of female sexuality as a quiet act of subversion on some bizarre level; the opposite of the appearance a woman upholds, within a small town, say, or at a certain age. An idea that makes me want to shout and weep.

My story is about a woman growing into herself. A woman’s developing sexuality over the course of her life, the time she devotes to getting to know herself, whilst becoming freer in expressing that with a partner(s), is something I’m a passionate advocate of. It was important to describe my character, Carmela, growing in this way.

Stripping the writing down to the bare minimum has a strong impact in scenes of a less pleasurable nature. When sex becomes an act of aggression, I made a conscious choice to use very plain language. In this way the act speaks volumes, rather than the narrator. I wanted to place the scene before the readers and allow them to feel the horror of the situation without becoming over bearing with language.

It’s such a fine line to tight rope, in a romantic story, when describing sexual encounters. In Under a Sardinian Sky, these scenes are the apex of the love story. Without a depiction, which allows the readers to indulge in the same feelings and physical sensations as the characters, there’s no longer a story, in my opinion. It was a challenge to tread that narrow strait between porn and romance. I did not want to be opaque, evasive, make their passion a fairy tale of the intensity the characters feel for one another, nor did I want it to be titillating for its own sake.

Once I had discovered a gentle, but honest midpoint between the two, I felt free to explore and unfold the scenes. I recorded the audiobook, and I can say I’ve never felt quite so bare before a stranger. I sat alone in a small recording studio, with a male engineer on the other side of the glass. If my British-Sardinian boundaries had not been pushed till then, they were bludgeoned at this point. Beyond the smart of embarrassment (I hadn’t envisaged me ever reading out a sex scene I had created in front of a stranger), there was the tingle of liberation.

To sweep these things under the carpet in a romantic story would weaken the power that draws people to one another. And if the intimate descriptions focus on the deepest levels of the character’s connection to one another, not only on describing body parts and what they do, but how they change the other person in some way, then I think explicit scenes have enormous power. It’s a writer’s duty to delve into the deepest crevices (almost no pun intended) of their characters. Then it’s up to the readers to decide if they will fall in love with them too.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.57.50 PM

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Freese-HeadshotIf you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.


The post Handling the Risqué Parts of Writing Romance appeared first on WritersDigest.com.

Munich Film Festival II

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 11:28 am
selenak: (Orson Welles by Moonxpoints5)
[personal profile] selenak
The Infiltrator was part of the Bryan Cranston retrospective and basically came across as a well-made routine thriller without anything being either bad or having anything innovative going for it. I.e. if you've watched thrillers about undercover cops working to bring a drug cartel down, you can predict all of the story beats. (Other than one spoilerly bit ).) It's entertaining and does what it sets out to do, and needless to say Cranston is reliably good in the part, but I wouldn't say it's a must.

City of Ghosts, otoh, was a fantastic documentary, directed by Matthew Heineman, about the citizen journalist group Raqqa is being slaughtered silently (RBBS). Before I watched it, I was unfamiliar with the phrase "citizen journalist" , but it's really a perfect description, because before the IS came to Raqqa, only one of them was a journalist, the rest had professions like high school math teacher or engineer. Nonetheless, they took incredible risks getting out photos and film evidence of the atrocities the so called Islamic State visited - and still visits upon their city. The surviving founders of the group had to flee but they still have some members in Raqqa, trying their best to continue getting material out. I'm always hesitant to use the phrase "real life heroes", but these people are truly heroic, and one thing that galls me especially is that when they've made it alive to Germany and safety, they promptly run into one anti-refugees march by the godawful AFD in Berlin.

The documentary starts during the "Arab Spring" in 2012, for which the Assad Regime going after Raqqa school children was one of the local triggers, and ends last year. We follow the core group of RBBS; Heineman is an invisible presence, he lets them narrate their stories, and when there's background information/exposition, such the way the IS uses the media for recruitment changed radically from the very early static speech videos to the Hollywood style big production videos that came into use after the fall of Raqqa, the activists are doing the explaining (subtitled, for the most part, everyone talks in Arabic) while the audience sees excerpts of the videos in question. BTW, I'd never seen an IS recruitment video before, and I have to say, the exact copying of action movie gimmicks and aesthetics (complete with following-the-bullet shots, soundtrack, etc.) is nearly as unsettling as the content. It's not much of a comfort that RBBS was able to puncture the IS self image enough by getting videos and photos showing the true state of Raqqa out to counteract the IS claims about it that the IS forbade any satelites in Raqqa and ordered the inhabitants to publically destroy theirs, so they regain control of the imagery. But it's something.

If the excerpts from the IS videos go for action movie gloss on violence, the mobile phone camera made videos of the RBBS are shaky, abruptly cut off, full of (inevitably) strange angles - and shocking in quite a different way. For example, the first time we see executions, the abrupt deaths and the already dead bodies lying around are bad enough, but without either the camera or any narrator pointing this out, what is as gruesome is what you see in the background. Yes, these are heads on pikes on what used to be the town square, not cheap movie props in the latest zombie splatter, but real human heads.

There's a lot of survivors guilt among the activists; one of them had to watch his father being executed in punishment, all of them are directly threatened by the IS who calls for their deaths, one lost his brother who was among the refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean, and when he talks about his dead brother, he says he still sends him messages per Facebook (as the account hasn't been taken down). "I am broken, my brother. Broken." And yet, and yet, they still continue to risk their lives. There's also a lot of comraderie we see, being physically comfortable with each other, and the rare moment of pure joy, such as everyone having a snowball fight in Berlin. You feel for them, and admire them - and hope the movie will be seen by as many people as possible. Maybe it will remind them that 95% of the victims of IS terrorism are Muslims - and said victims won't, shan't be silenced, are doing their best to fight back.

L'Intrusa, directed by Leonardo di Costanzo, is, like The Infiltrator, "based on a true story", with organized crime in the background, but the contrast couldn't be greater. While delivering a tight narration, there's nothing routine or slick about this movie, which is set in Naples and manages to avoid every single cliché. The fact you don't see the Vesuvio or the bay anywhere is just one of them; L'Intrusa is set in one of the poor quarters. The central characteris Giovanna, who has organized a miixture of daycare centre and social centre for kids and teenagers to offer them a life off the streets. When the film starts, the centre is well established and has been running for years, has been embraced by the neighborhood - but then something happens that puts Giovanna in an unsolvable dilemma. One of the small to mid level gangster's wives - Maria - and her two children have come to the centre, claiming refuge. Giovanna, Maria's daughter Rita and Maria are the three main characters; the supporting cast is also individualized, from Giovanna's right hand woman Sabina to the widow of a man Maria's husband has shot to the little daughter whose father was beaten to a pulp by Maria's husband right in front of her.

L'Intrusa never shows on screen violence. It doesn't show the Camorra doing what the Camorra does, but the after effects are present everywhere. This was a deliberate choice by the director, who in the Q & A said that if you depict Mafiosi "from the front", i.e. put them in the centre of the narration, even if you position them as villains, you end up making them in some ways sympathetic or even glorify them. "So, in my films, I only come at them sideways" - i.e. they're not there on screen, but there's no mistaking the terribile effect they have. Now, the centre is a film full of life and joy, with a community acting together, and it's rare and very attractive to see that. But it's not utopia, and in fact the need for it directly grows out of the unseen horrors around it. Not surprisingly, more and more parents object to Maria's presence. Giovanna gets accused of prioritizing the perpretators over their victims. The aunt of the little girl who has seen her father beaten into a pulp demands to know how she should justify to her sister letting her niece interact, let alone play with Rita, what that would do to her niece. Things come to a head when Rita and some of the kids argue, a normal kids' argument, with the parents drawn into, but Maria isn't just any parent, and so when she says "if you touch my daughter again etc.", the awareness that this is the wife of someone who casually kills people, even if he's currently arrested and hopefully won't get out of prison any time soon, makes this a direct threat to the other kids.

Otoh, Giovanna's argument is: if you ever want to break the cycle of violence, you need to make sure that the Marias of the world don't raise their children to follow their fathers' footsteps. That these children learn other values, learn something different. If she turns these children away from the centre, this will not happen.

As I said: it's an unsolvable dilemma, and the movie doesn't simplify it. It even adds to the stakes because Maria at first comes across as arrogant and rude (it's not until well into the film when you see her alone that you realise she's shattered and scared as well). Not to mention that she starts out by deceiving Giovanna, and there's early on not much to justify Giovanna's hope that Maria actually wants a change for herself and her children - nothing but the fact Maria is here instead of being with her rich sister-in-law, who in the movie shows up twice in a big car to retrieve Maria, in vain, and evidently lives the well funded Mafia spouse life. Basically: you understand where everyone is coming from.

Something else I learned in the Q & A was that most of the actors were lay actors, actual Neapolitans whose main job is in social service (though no one played themselves), with Giovanna being played by a woman who is a dancer and dance choreographer. "Because Giovanna doesn't say much, she's so stoic, she expresses herself through her body language," said the director, "I wanted someone who could do that, that's why I picked Raffaela Giordano." Who indeed is able to express much by the way she looks at people, by her movements, and who looks like she's closer to 50 than to 40. Everyone looks "normal", i.e. like people you could meet on the streets, not like well styled actors with a daily workout. But none act amateurishly in the sense that you're taken outside the story or feel they're talking stiltedly; given Rita and the other children are a big part of the story, that's especially amazing.

Favourite detail: one of the projects the kids in the centre work on, and the one Rita falls in love with and participates with, is building a robot they name "Mr. Jones" out of old bicycle parts. You can bet that in most other movies, Rita and her baby brother would have changed placed in age and it would have been a little boy fascinated with the robot.

In conclusion: probably my favourite movie so far, and highly reccomended

Escape from Triassic Park

Monday, June 26th, 2017 07:03 pm
fadeaccompli: (roles)
[personal profile] fadeaccompli
So, a few weeks back I ran into this one-page RPG on Tumblr. It's called "Escape from Triassic Park", and it's basically "Jurassic Park from the dinosaur perspective," with very fast and silly rules for maximum mayhem. This afternoon, I decided to try it out, and run a very short, very fast game of it for anyone who wanted to play.

(N.B.: The RPG was created by these folks based on the RPGs done by this guy and seems most like this RPG of his about criminal bears. Note has been also made of its similarity to Lasers & Feelings (PDF link), so, credit where it is variously due!)

The obstacles in their path were "all the males are in cryo storage" and "the guards are spliced with dino DNA"; they started "in their own enclosures"; and these are the stories of the Dinosaurs On The Run.

(Most of the OOC comments have been taken out of the log except for clarity, amusement, and where I forgot to do otherwise. One typo has been corrected, and two misordered poses have been put back into order. Otherwise this is exactly as it happened. Based on a true story, etc.)

Session Log )

Comment on Plot is Hard: Brainstorming by LizV

Monday, June 26th, 2017 07:22 pm
[syndicated profile] pcwrede_comments_feed

Posted by LizV

Ah, finally found the link that I was going to add (which I am now going to bookmark in six different places):

Oblique Strategies is a random remark generator, based on a set of cards. Rather like reading fortune cookies for one’s characters, it can give you odd, often cryptic phrases to ponder in relation to a creative dilemma.

I might try it instead of or in combination with the dictionary suggestion.

Spoilers, sweetie

Monday, June 26th, 2017 07:32 pm
nineveh_uk: Cover illustration for "Strong Poison" in pulp fiction style with vampish Harriet. (Strong Poison)
[personal profile] nineveh_uk
Some recent media viewing


It's absolute tosh, but it's fun tosh. There's a 10 minute section after each episode in which they tell you which bits are actually vaguely connected to reality, and which aren't. For someone with very little knowledge of the history of the period it manages to be quite educational. I certainly had no idea that in 1672 the Dutch Prime Minister was set upon by a mob in The Hague who not only killed, but possibly ate parts of him.

On another note, Wikipedia led me to this portrait of Louis XIV showing an early example of the contorted breasts and bum figure so beloved of bad film posters and novel covers.

My Cousin Rachel

Did Daphne de Maurier have an ill-advised affair with someone she met at a continental holiday resort? It would explain a lot. I enjoyed this very much, and finally found out the ending having somehow managed to avoid spoilers for about 20 years since I heard the first half as a radio play. I should like to read the book; the film maintained the ambiguity well, but I wonder how much the story relies for its depth on a certain interiority that is hard to maintain on film, but I can imagine being there in a novel.

Doctor Who

I've enjoyed this series very much in a low-key kind of way. I've really enjoyed Capaldi, and Peal Mackie is excellent as Bill. It's been nice to have a companion with no particular mystery or backstory to her, just someone going round the galaxy having adventures with the Doctor, and Mackie portrays a combination of cheerful friendliness and curiosity that works very well. Not to mention added fun from Michelle Gomez as the Master.

Read more... )

(no subject)

Monday, June 26th, 2017 12:30 pm
fadeaccompli: (risky)
[personal profile] fadeaccompli
Finally turned off the crossposting to LJ; it's been failing ever since the new TOS went up over there, anyway.

Alas, alas, for Livejournal of old. Long live the Dreamdwidth!

(no subject)

Monday, June 26th, 2017 11:14 am
fadeaccompli: (determination)
[personal profile] fadeaccompli
I'm never quite sure how to treat my DW account, especially with how silent the place is compared to LJ of old. Not quite a ghost town, but certainly not the neighborhood coffee shop either. A suburb sidewalk, perhaps? We wave to people we pass when we see them outside, watering the lawn or checking the mail. Sometimes we wave from a window as they pass our house, walking the dog. It's quiet. Fairly amiable. Such is.

Well, since my day-to-day chatter is on Twitter, I suppose I treat this as a very broad kind of diary. Thus, recently:

1) I became less sick. Go me. Very much appreciated.

2) I went to Minneapolis for a week, where I:

2a) Met up with professors, picked up a lot of books from the library, saw some classmates (coworkers? what do you call fellow grad students in your department?), and figured out a better direction for the Catullus paper;

2b) Went to Fourth Street Fantasy, as I have apparently been doing for six years now, and had a marvelous time, especially because I was on anti-anxiety meds and carefully using my time, which meant I didn't get to everything I wanted, but I was able to really enjoy all the things I went to, and;

2c) not only enjoyed the panels I attended immensely, but ended up on the traditional impromptu But That's Another Panel at the end of the con, which was on happy endings, wherein I got to argue with people I like and have a great time;

2d) and then headed back home, as it's pretty eerie to be in Minneapolis over the summer, with the office empty and my dog somewhere else;

3) I've been picking up on German on Duolingo again, which is reassuring, in that I still have the basic syntactical structure and simple forms down, even if my vocab is lousy and thus I need Google Translate to get through an academic paper in German, yeesh;

4) I am working valiantly on my Social Services of the Damned project, and finally making the progress I've been wanting;

5) I'm mulling over the Catullus stuff, and about to go to UT and turn my TexShare Card (derived from my Austin City Library card) into a UT Some Title Here Card that will let me check out academic books I need from them, which, y'know, will be helpful, because JSTOR will only get you so far in the research grind, especially in classics, since JSTOR doesn't really do much in the way of non-English resources and I damn well need to pick up some stuff from other languages;

6) ...shit. I need to learn Italian. Should be easy, right? I've got Spanish, I've got Latin, I've got the French basics, how hard could it be?

7) Back to Duolingo it is.

8) Also I've read all the (modern) Squirrel Girl I can find and you guys, it's GREAT, it is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC, I'm turning into an evangelist for it, and you should read it. The graphic novel collections, the YA novel, anything you can find that's from the last few years. (Prior to that is...iffy.) Seriously. It's great.
[syndicated profile] guide2literaryagents_feed

Posted by Guest Column

Reminder: This agent spotlight features Shaheen Qureshi of Capital Talent Agency. Remember, newer agents are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is likely building his or her client list.

About Shaheen: I have worked in publishing and editing for the past five years. As the former managing editor of Tadween Publishing, a Middle East academic press, I facilitated the publication of a political cartoon book and a collection of interviews with Iraqi activists. Before being promoted as literary agent, I assisted Capital Talent Agency’s senior literary agent Cynthia Kane with reading and editing manuscripts. I also teach writing workshops and volunteer in public schools in Washington, DC as a writing mentor and tutor. I received my B.A. at Bard College where I was awarded the Wilton Moore Lockwood prize in creative writing, and have published poetry in Bard Papers and Sukoon Magazine. As a growing literary agency in Washington, CTA will provide me with a strong platform to represent authors, and I’m looking forward to getting to work on behalf of interesting writers and their works.

She is Seeking: literary fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on historical fiction and narrative nonfiction, as well as memoirs, cookbooks, and graphic novels. I am particularly interested in character-driven stories that give voice to the underrepresented and marginalized. Books that challenge the status quo and examine race, class, food, gender, colonialism, or history in a new light always grab my attention.

How to Submit: Submissions should be sent to literary.submissions@capitaltalentagency.com. We accept submissions only by e-mail. We do not accept queries via postal mail or fax. For fiction and nonfiction submissions, send a query letter in the body of your e-mail. Attachments will not be opened. Please note that while we consider each query seriously, we are unable to respond to all of them. We endeavor to respond within six weeks to projects that interest us.

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The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Freese-HeadshotIf you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.



The post Agent Spotlight: Shaheen Qureshi of Capital Talent Agency appeared first on WritersDigest.com.




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