Monday, September 29, 2014

Tracy Townsend - Nightmare on Query Street 2013 SUCCESS STORY!

HOW ABOUT IT? A success story from last year's contest right before our amazing Nightmare on Query Street 2014 contest coming up soon!!!!!!! NoQS is mentioned in the story below (along with some actions we can't say we endorse :D) so this is amazing. It's a fantastic story. Take it away, Tracy!

In the fall of 2012, I accepted a dare from a colleague in the English department where I teach: to join him and a group of our students in NaNoWriMo. Since I’m one of the principle teachers of creative writing at our school (this haven for intellectual oddballs and the gifted, sometimes called “Hogwarts for Hackers”), it made sense. I’d had a loose idea for a world and a story in me for years but never made my own writing – or, really, myself – enough of a priority to write it down. But I knew my characters already, and I knew what was facing them, and the thought of finally getting it out was so appealing.

I could never have predicted how that one, agreeable shrug of my shoulders would lead to such a complicated future.

When Nightmare on Query Street 2013 came around almost a year later, I was a first-time novelist with a complete ms and a fistful of loyal CPs found through the hope and happenstance of AgentQuery Connect (I’m looking at you, Michelle and Pete). I had a query letter they’d kicked up and down cyberspace for weeks, a synopsis, some spiffy first chapters, and …

A word count problem. Like, to the tune of an adult fantasy manuscript 134K strong. By the time Michelle, Mike, and S.C. made the all-call NOQS entries, I’d already racked up a month’s worth of rejections and some detailed CP notes, all chorusing “cut this thing down, and maybe it’ll go somewhere.” Encouraged by my writer-friends to give the contest a go, I wrote my “MC’s greatest fear” paragraph, squinted fussily at my query, spit-shined page one, and sent it all off.

Then I sat down to make good on my submission’s claim that the project was actually 125K.

I know what you’re thinking: “You … lied about your word count?”

Well, sort of. No. Not “sort of.” Yes, I did. (Not-so-subliminal message: DO NOT do this!) I had a strategy planned out: I would submit with that word count, dive into my CP notes, and start editing down. By the time I knew if I’d made the contest, the ms would be the promised length, and really, that tightening needed to happen either way. I had been reluctant to cut for months, insisting I had already taken out as much as could go (it had been 146K, once upon a time – STOP LAUGHING AT ME). Creating this sense of urgency would make me do the job at last. (Do not do this… Do not do this… Play with fire and you get burned… Look both ways before you cross the street… DO NOT DO THIS. Please.)  [SC: Do not do this!!!!!!!!!!! XD]

Poking about the NOQS forum on AQC, I saw Mike tease about dropping his final pick for another spotted at the last minute – a really interesting adult fantasy he couldn’t pass up. And then, a day or so later, lo and behold: I – or, my manuscript, THE NINE, rather – was a Monster. The actual manuscript was only down to 130K at this point, not the advertised 125K, and so, even as I gabbled on Twitter with the other contestants and our growing, cheerful fan bases, I worked furiously behind the scenes to cut, cut, cut.

By the end, I had one ten page, three fifty page, and one full request. Twenty-four hours after the contest closed, I was down to 122k and sent my beastie off, praying after its electron trail.

Time passed. By December, two of those partials became fulls. The original contest full lingered out there, unanswered.

In February 2014, still haunting the Twitter pages of two agents from NOQS who hadn’t yet decided on the full, I discovered #MSWL. There, I found a request tweeted by Agent Overwhelming: funny, charming, unfailingly polite personage with an impressive sales streak. I had long since decided that querying there was out of my league, but the #MSWL message sounded just enough like my work…

I gave it a shot.

Three hours after I sent the query, it turned into a request for a full. Nine days later, I was talking to Agent Overwhelming on the phone, going over ideas and details for an R&R. I babbled. Lord knows how I must have sounded. Agent Overwhelming, though, was completely clear: these kinds of phone calls are rare, and serious, but not a guarantee. No promises from Overwhelming that writing the revision meant representation – and so, no expectation that the revised ms would be an exclusive, either.

That, as it turned out, would prove as important to my eventually getting an agent as NOQS itself.

It was just six months after I’d started querying, and I had an R&R. I planned it down to the finest detail and set aside my entire upcoming summer break to tackle the job. In early June, it dawned on me that I really should take advantage of the non-exclusive agreement offered. I contacted all the agents who had read the previous full or had it in hand then (including a small press who had offered on a prior version) and let them know a new copy would be available soon, if they wanted it.

One of the first agents to respond to that offer was Agent October, the agent whose request – even though it wasn’t a full – had had me the most excited during NOQS. I’d had a stack of raggedy post-it notes in my desk drawer for months prior to actually beginning querying, written in more or less my fantasyland order of “agents I wish would sign me.” (These were, naturally, also the agents I was most afraid of querying.) Agent Overwhelming and Agent October’s names were written side by side, with slashes separating them, top of the list. Imagine my surprise when Agent October responded to the revision offer, confirming that she actually had just recently finished reading my ms.  She’d had some misgivings about it and thought a re-read was in order. I described the changes I’d discussed with Agent Overwhelming, and she felt they largely addressed her concerns. She added two points of her own, which I quickly included in my to-do list. Then I powered on, completing a first draft, CP rounds and notes, and a final draft all by the first week of August 2014.

I sent the revision – practically a speed-skater at 114K (STOP LAUGHING) – to several interested agents, the small press, and (of course) Agents Overwhelming and October.

I waited, but not for very long. When the small press editor came back with yet another offer, I sent the word around and found myself on the phone with Agent Overwhelming again. Not wanting to endanger the small press as an option by making them wait overlong, Overwhelming vowed to finish reading by the following Monday and get back to me. Other agents followed suit. Mercifully, the school year was starting again. I threw myself into the distraction of class prep.

Monday came, bringing no news with it. By lunchtime Tuesday, I felt the small press deadline closing in and nudged Agent Overwhelming for a status report.

The response came less than one minute later.

Agent Overwhelming had not been overwhelmed. The email was polite, professional, encouraging. Sympathetic. It ended with an invitation to share future work, and best wishes. None of that stopped me from sitting slack-jawed at my desk, staring at the screen as if I could will the message away. It wasn’t that I assumed I was already in. I am extraordinarily good, actually, at not getting my hopes up. I had written the revision, telling myself all the while that the reason to do it was because I believed the advice given would make a better book. Everything beyond that was hope – less than hope, it was a guess, a stab in the dark. It was that dream-list on a raggedy post-it note.

That well-ordered, rational thinking didn’t console me much.

I wondered how I could have fooled myself into thinking I was in anybody’s league. Anything other than bush-league. I was a first-time novelist, a lifelong writer with a career of putting my own ideas aside in favor of teaching others how to excel. I was a living embodiment of that horrible adage about how those who can do, and those who can’t, teach. I remembered the small press offer, but now, as I researched the costs associated with a good publishing attorney to review documents, it seemed the billable hours would equal or exceed my probable earnings. Whatever THE NINE earned would be almost entirely through my own marketing, something I knew nothing about. I was in over my head and had been from the start. I was finally getting my cosmic punishment for my word-count gamble. I had dared, and gotten close, and it was just that I should get my smack-down now. Simple as that.

My sadness gave way to a dull sense of foreboding – an absolute conviction that the next 24 hours would be parade of “no”s from the remaining agents. Instead, at 3:30 that same afternoon, my email winked with a message from Bridget Smith. Agent October, the first agent to ever request my full manuscript based on reading a partial. The first agent to want more of my work, knowing what it was really like. The first name, side-by-side with Agent Overwhelming’s, to have made my dream list.

She was glad to have read the revision, because she really liked it. She felt more confident about it, reading it slowly, carefully, taking time to “admire [my] skillful writing”! Could we talk tonight?

Yes. Let’s talk now.

A half hour later, my phone rang, and the whole world changed. I told myself not to listen with rebound-ears. There was a chance this might not be a fit. I shouldn’t jump at acceptance because I was still stinging from rejection.

But it was a fit – a perfect fit. Bridget had noticed things about the manuscript, details of character and world-building that I had put in almost as Easter eggs. I’d never counted on a reader finding them, but she had and she got them. She had insights into the culture of my world, daring suggestions about shoring up storyline, and authentic curiosity. She was the perfect blend of enthusiastic and genuine – never gushing or putting on a show. And she didn’t shrink from my toughest questions. She had some editors in mind for submission and felt that the book could go bigger than the small press who had offered to me. She was ready to really work her experience in the sf/f market. As the conversation wound to a close, I told her I needed to let the other agents know of the offer – and she asked about Agent Overwhelming.

Was it just my imagination that she didn’t sound terribly disappointed about Overwhleming’s decision to pass?

When my cursor hovered over “send” on my first query back in August 2013, to predict where I’d be in a year, I would never have mapped out this strange, winding road. I certainly wouldn’t have imagined it would lead right back to the beginning – to my first and fondest hope.

People tell you patience is key to querying, and they’re right. October 2013 to August 2014 kind of patience. Luck is part of it, too. The luck of finding amazing CPs, for one: Michelle, and Pete, and eventually Maura. The luck that opens the doors to opportunity: Mike’s taking a second look at my entry and swapping it in. There’s an absolute, full-frontal nudity of the ego when querying, and entering contests, and being rejected. You can’t know when you start if or how you’ll reach your goal, or how many expectations will be broken along the way. You can’t predict which gambles will pay off and what paths will cross, or how they’ll all suddenly come together, as if it were meant to be.   As if you’d written the end of the story on a scrap of paper before you even began.

You can’t know. That’s why we try.

Tracy Townsend lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois and teaches English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. She has studied at DePauw University, the National University of Ireland (Galway), and DePaul University, where she obtained degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric. She is a member of the Science Fiction Research Association and other academic organizations, which has allowed her to write very long things and read them aloud to people who are obliged to behave politely. Her background as a lapsed Catholic, an assistant martial arts instructor, a comic book fangirl (Make Mine Marvel!), a tabletop role-player, and an obsessive hound for obscure mythologies inspired her writing of The Nine. Inexplicably, other uses for that resume have yet to present themselves. She is represented by the strikingly elegant and classy Bridget Smith of Dunham Lit.

Tracy devotes time she doesn’t have to cooking, gardening, writing, and seriously pondering the treadmill in her basement. She is married to her high school sweetheart, with whom she shares two remarkable children. They are – naturally – named after characters from books.

You can find Tracy on Twitter more often than she really ought to be.

I really enjoyed this story. It's real and honest, and shows that getting an agent isn't some fairy tale with a path paved of gold. It doesn't come easy, it doesn't come fast. We all know it, but we can always hear it again. Thank you so much Tracy for sharing! Make SURE to congratulate her on Twitter and thank her for sharing. And Nightmare on Query Street 2014 is coming up soon! If you want to win a free pass (skip the slush pile and make it directly on our teams) click here for details.

Congrats Tracy!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Which Writer Means the Most to You? (NoQS Contest Free Pass Opportunity!)

I'm not asking who is your favorite writer. I'm not asking which writer you think is the greatest writer ever. I'm not asking which writer you wish to emulate. I'm asking which writer means the most to you -- and the answer to all these questions can be different writers and can also all be one writer.

For me, my favorite writer and the writer that means the most to me have the same answer: JK Rowling (surprise surprise!).

I do not own this picture.
The answer to this question is deeply unique, so it is personal story time. Gather around the fireplace, everyone. *gather gather* My story will be short and vague because it's personal, so I apologize for that.

I started reading JK Rowling years and years ago. I loved her (who didn't?) but I wouldn't say she meant the most to me. She hadn't affected me in a deep level yet.

That came years later, when I was going through a tough time and I just didn't know what I could do. How could I get out of the feeling I felt? How could I release whatever I was feeling? I'd been reading for a long time before that and dabbled a bit in poetry and short stories, but nothing serious at all. Writing was a conscious decision for me; I looked at JK Rowling and thought, "I could write myself out of this darkness." So I wrote. And I wrote. One of the most deeply autobiographical novels I've written (and so, the worst novel I've written). But it was necessary. I needed to see myself on the page, have the character go through what I was and through the character's emotions and actions, release my same frustrations.

It helped. More than I can say. I'm scared to think what state or situation I'd be in if I did not have JK Rowling. She showed me writing could be my greatest form of expression because without expressing myself, I was on a sure path to implosion. In me, she sparked the journey to become a writer, one of the (if not the) best gifts a stranger has ever given me -- and much greater than most gifts I've received from people I know. She means so much to me because she has changed my life for the better. I am a writer because of her. Whether I would have been a writer without her, I'm not sure. Maybe I would have, who knows? But at that crucial time, she was there for me. She set off something so deep in me because much of my present life revolves around writing. Some of my long-term goals are writing-related. And she sparked it. I'm a changed person because of her.

Writing and writers can create revolutions in people. Now I want to know which writer means the most to you. Is it a writer like Jo Rowling? Is it a family member? Friend? Anyone, I'd love love to know.

(If you're participating in the query contest Nightmare on Query Street (please do, it's amazing!) the answer to this question will be your submission to a free pass from me! If I pick your comment as the one I loved the most, you'll automatically skip the dreaded slush pile and have a spot on the SC Spooks - my team. If you're submitting for the free pass, please just say "Free Pass" before you start your answer because I'd love to hear from writers not submitting to NoQS as well! If you're not submitting for the free pass, just don't mention "Free Pass" in your comment :) I'll pick the answer that is most in depth, personal, honest, meaningful, etc. as my winner but I'll probably end up picking in a very subjective manner; you guys always have amazing answers. What'll raise your chances is if you Tweet out your answer to this question, add #NoQS, link to this post, and mention me @SC_Author! It won't guarantee a spot (and is definitely not a requirement) but if things are close, I'll look into Tweets. Deadline is October 4th, I'll announce the winner on the Monday after! Visit Michelle's and Mike's (he might have his up soon) blogs for their passes.)

So how about it? Which writer means the most to you?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Do Cupcakes Inspire You?

Just look at that cupcake below.


Yea. I'm having late-night cravings thanks to Wendy Nikel. She asked if eating them makes me feel inspired in respond to a cry on Twitter wondering what I should blog about.

THIS IS A CHALLENGE! I must somehow incorporate writing with cupcakes!

But now I'm just so dang hungry and really want a cupcake with frosting and cakeyness. Argh. I'm hungry. But it's 1 AM. No way I can run out to buy cupcakes, that's just weird. 


This oddly plays so well with those sudden bursts of writing at the worst possible times. Like, "holy crap I need to write, but I have to be up by seven tomorrow and it's two am. BUT I MUST WRITE!"

I must have that cupcake!! Should I wait until I wake up? But I know myself, and I know that if I go to sleep, when I wake up I will no longer have my cupcake craving. My inspiration will fade away and I won't be as cupcake-passionate.

That happens to me in writing as well. It happened a lot in the beginning, but I think I've trained myself to be inspired on my own command - and to write even if I'm not inspired. But there was a time....I think late last year, when I just had to write a scene I was mulling in my head before I went to sleep. I usually think about stuff before I sleep (who doesn't?) and I was thinking about my characters, and what if this? what if that? And I felt so passionately about a scene, so riled up, I had to get out of bed and write it. And I did, and I'm so proud of it because I've never felt like that while drafting anything before. It was an incredibly powerful experience (so powerful it made me get out of bed!) and I don't regret it. After all, given months and months, who'll ever regret not getting enough sleep that one night? Unless, of course, it leads to some crazy things the next day and in that case, you're more than justified to regret not sleeping enough.

Do you have these cupcake inspirations? (That's what I'm going to call them from now on :D Thanks Wendy!!) How do these inspirations come - randomly or with a lot of thought - and how do you handle them if the situation is really bad for you to start writing? (I usually text myself some lines or main ideas.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Announcing Nightmare on Query Street 2014!!!

It's back, and it's badder than ever.

IT'S Nightmare on Query Street!!!!!!!!! Don’t have a scary manuscript, DON'T WORRY. Just read on.

A brand new year, a brand new evil.

This contest, as it runs in the Halloween time, is all about FEAR.

The Details:

The submission window opens at 12 noon (EST) on October 15th. The window will close at 12 noon (EST) October 17th or when we receive 225 entries.

MichelleMike, and SC will make thirteen picks each, and those picks will undergo mentor help the 22nd through the 25th, where (SURPRISE, change from last year!) the mentor round will be in play; mentors will help hone the entries behind the scenes! OooooooOOOoooOOooo. We've already got amazing mentors lined up, so know that your entries will be amazingly polished when agents come in on the 28th through the 30th and we post the polished entries. Then, CELEBRATE! Halloween is the day after :)

We are accepting all age categories and genres, excluding picture books and exotica. But be sure to check our list of agents when it goes live to see if they represent your book's genre.

If you plan on participating in the contest, you have to be following all our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC).

It's pretty simple, actually. 

But there's a catch.

Along with your query and 250, you must write a SHORT paragraph (no more than 100 words) about your main character. This is the question you must answer:

What is your main character's most fearsome obstacle? 

The Format:

Send all your submissions to nightmareonquerystreet (at) yahoo (dot) com. Only one submission per email address or person is allowed.

Here's how it should be formatted (yes, include the bolded and everything!). Please use Times New Roman (or equivalent), 12 pt font, and put spaces between paragraphs. No indents or tabs are needed.

Subject Line of Email: NoQS: Title, age category genre

Example: NoQS: Pygmy Hazards, MG humor

Title: MY FANTASTIC BOOK (yes, caps!)
Genre: Adult Fantasy (no caps; age category AND genre)
Word Count: XX,XXX

My Main Character's Greatest Obstacle:

My MC's most fearsome obstacles is potatoes. (Please, spend some time on this! I know that I will be looking at this to make up for gaps in the query and 250. It gives us a chance to know your characters better. It doesn't have to be horror-scary. It can be more subtle.)


Here is my fantastic query!

First 250 words:

Here are the first 250 words of my manuscript, and I will not end in the middle of a sentence, even if I hit 252 words.

And that's it! Send in that email during the submission window and you're ready to go :) There will be a confirmation email!!

This should be FUN. This is a Halloween-themed contest, so please please please, spend time on the MC's Greatest Fear paragraph!!!! It should be a LOT of fun. If you're writing a funny book, make a funny twist on the question, or say your MC is scared of strawberries or something. If it's a serious/sad book, you should have a field day, because the MC's fear might be so heart-wrenching.

This is a new way to pitch, so have fun with it (and don't stress out over it like its a query or something).

So go over and follow our blogs (MichelleMike, and SC) and our Twitters (MichelleMike, and SC) (we're Tweeting under the hashtag #NoQS) to stay in touch with all that we're doing. 

I AM VERY VERY VERY EXCITED. So far we've got seven agents on board and a bunch of mentors. I can't wait to see your answers to the question!!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm Back to Work!

For a while now, I've been doing basically nothing writing-related. Yeah, nothing. No revising, no submitting, no drafting, no nothing. Granted, life has been rather busy lately but I know I can find time to work on writing - I always do.

So now, I've got to get back to work. I don't like this long break of no writing.

This is different than the break that comes after you write your first draft. That break (even though I fought it so hard) is necessary for a fresh go at the second draft. It's hard to force yourself away from your manuscript during that break. That break is a natural pause in the writing process.

But the break I was on wasn't. It wasn't even that I was sick of writing and needed to breathe. That'd justify my break. But no. I just...didn't work on writing. I got lazy? I don't even know.

But yesterday, I finally thought, "What the heck am I doing?" and started some writing-related stuff. I I was in the shower and thinking, "What am I waiting for? A critique or beta feedback? No, I already got it. More revising? No, I did it. What's there to wait for now?" and I realized that my publication goal would have literally no chance of coming true if I didn't, well, try. So I started again! My break is over and it feels good.

Have you ever gone on one of these unintended breaks? How did you get over it?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Holly Jennings - Query Kombat 2014 SUCCESS STORY!!

We haven't had a success story after that absolute avalanche of stories. FEAR NOT! HERE'S ANOTHER ONE!!!

In the summer of 2013, I came across Query Kombat for the first time. All I could think was "I wonder if I'll ever write something good enough to make it into that contest." As a short story writer, I'd tried my hand at novels now and again but didn't have anything worth submitting.

That same summer I started reading New Adult books and loved the "you're 18 now, deal with it" consequences. Shortly after, I came across a documentary about 18-year-old kids dropping out of college and trying to make it as professional video game players. What an idea for a new adult book! The geek in me immediately warped the concept into a future where virtual reality gaming is a national sport and gamers are pro athletes.

But wait. That wasn't right. I wrote short stories. I wrote fantasy. They're what I'd come home to every night for years. But with a juicy premise, a kick-butt female protag, and a hunky male love interest, I just couldn't say no.

Yes. I decided to cheat and it was everything an affair should be: fast, steamy, and unquenchable desire. I'd never had a story come out so quickly. I wrote the first ten thousand words in less than three days and it poured out like fourth draft material. It felt magical. I couldn't ignore the little voice that whispered "hey, this time something's different."

I slowly started entering contests and querying in April 2014. I got invaluable feedback from judges and a few partial requests, which ultimately ended in rejections. But they were personalized rejections from agents about what they loved and what wasn't working. Wow. Personalized rejections! Along with recommendations for improvement, I kept seeing the same comment again and again: "Your concept is unique and really stands out. Someone out there is going to love it."

This sent me into overdrive. I entered more contests. I did workshops for queries and opening chapters. Every spare minute I had went into the novel. Then Query Kombat 2014 rolled around. Just a year before I had questioned if I'd be good enough for the contest. Was I going to try? I closed my eyes and sent my entry in. To my complete amazement, not only did I get in, but also received three agent requests and got knocked out just before the semi-final round.

The next day, I sent out my requests, a few of which were soon upgraded to fulls. After radio silence for nearly a month, I decided it was time to send another round of queries into the agenting world, so I spent the weekend researching and personalizing six letters.

On Monday, I checked my email at lunch and had a reply from an agent who had my full. I cringed. Out of everyone who had requested my material, this was THE agent I was hoping would enjoy the book. But after past rejections, there was no doubt in my mind it would be a polite "loved the concept, but X, Y & Z wasn't working for me..." type of email.

I scanned through the message as quickly as I could until I saw phrases like "I'd be thrilled to represent you" and "are you available for a phone call?" Being at work I couldn't scream in the middle of the office. Instead, I bolted for the women's washroom and happy danced in front of the stalls.

That night I had the call. Being someone who's extremely shy, I was terrified. But the agent kept gushing over my book so that helped me relax. A little. I told him I was very interested in representation and needed a week to follow up with others.

Then I panicked. I had so much to do!

I contacted the six agents I'd just queried. You know that email I sent you yesterday? Well, oops. I have an offer so please disregard. A few replied with congratulations and more "your premise looks amazing!" comments which shot me from cloud nine right into outer space.

Of the agents with outstanding partials, a few stepped aside. Two immediately upgraded to fulls and asked for a week to get back to me. As the days went by wondering if I'd get another offer, I realized I didn't care. I already had the agent I wanted right from the minute he requested my book through Query Kombat.

So now I can proudly say I'm represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency and it's all because of the contest. Big thanks to Mike, Michelle and SC. Without them, I don't know where I'd be right now.

I can also say I've gone back to fantasy, but this time it's new adult fantasy and I've never felt more at home. 

Holly Jennings is a member of SF Canada and writes from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. Her short work has been published in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and the Clarion Writer's Craft blog. She now writes new adult speculative novels about being eighteen and lost in fantasy worlds or sci-fi futures. For more, check out her website at or follow her as she attempts to understand Twitter.

CONGRATS HOLLY!!!!!!! Make sure you all congratulate her on Twitter and check out her website. Good luck with everything and your video gaming awesomeness :D

Monday, September 8, 2014

What is Art - and Who Decides?

First, I'd like you to look at the painting below.
Western Field - Oil
One of Jane Hunt's incredible landscapes. Visit her website for more.
This is something almost universally considered art. I'm a huge fan of Jane Hunt - I think her landscapes and especially her use of color are revolutionary.

Now take a look at this.

Barnett Newman's painting sold for $43.8 million.
As Sotheby's describes it, "Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip."" Here's the article with more details on the sale of this piece and its history.

Also, take a look at this piece in the Tate Modern in London, one of the world's most renowned museums. 

Art & Language (Michael Baldwin) ‘Untitled Painting’, 1965
© Art & Language
Untitled Painting by Art & Language (Michael Baldwin). Mirror on canvas.
"Since the Renaissance, painting has often been likened to a window upon the world, with central perspective giving the viewer a sense of surveying what is contained within the picture frame. In a bold gesture, Art & Language turn this century-old convention upside-down by replacing the painting’s surface with a mirror. Rather than look at an image of the artist’s making, viewers are now confronted by themselves, thereby questioning a long-held notion of painting transcending reality."

This post isn't going to be an attack on modern art - in fact, it'll be the opposite.

Why is it that after seeing so many paintings, pieces, and sculptures in the National Gallery and at the Tate a few years ago, the one of the mirror is the one that sticks the strongest in my mind? It's the one I remember straight away from my trip to Britain. If someone asked me what art I saw in Britain, I'd immediately reply with this one (and, secondly, Turner's seascapes - cool story, THERE'S GOING TO BE A MOVIE COMING OUT SOON ABOUT TURNER!!!).

I know some modern art is laughable. A lot of it is a joke, actually. But there are some pieces that are so powerful in the oddest ways simply because it challenges the idea of art. What is art? And who decides?

Is art something that takes an incredible amount of technical skill to master? When we praise art, are we praising the artist or the art? What I mean is, are we praising the technical skills or the impact of the piece? The interesting thing about modern art is that so much of it is so simple, the idea of technical skills being required in art is challenged. What's required more is a sense of creativity, of impact, of a combat between the viewer and the piece.

What stuck to me about the Mirror piece (as I'll call it from now on) is just how true it was. In my mind (something I'm trying to come to terms with is that regardless of what the artist intended, the viewer's take on a piece can be just as true as the artist's, if not more so), the Mirror piece represents what we come into art with. We want to see what we expect to see. We want to see landscapes and portraits and historical battles and then we'll wipe our hands and walk out of the museum, calling it a day without remembering even one piece or one name unless it's a Da Vinci. The Mirror piece is almost a joke, a furious surrender. "You came into the museum looking for yourself, then here, I'm giving it to you. A mirror. Look at your self. Happy? No need to be challenged. Now get out."

So much of art depends on our own perspectives, be it visual art, literary art, musical, etc. Say you read a classic without knowing it's a classic. You're bored and slog through it, and think it sucked. But wait! Now you find out it's a classic. And then you reread and find all the beautiful turns of phrases you missed before, the metaphors, the allegories.

How should we come into art? It's impossibly hard to come in with no expectations at all. The very word 'art' springs forth so many emotions and memories. It's too loaded of a word. If modern art was called something else (not saying that it isn't art) then I feel people, including me, might be more accepting of it. Call it an 'experience' or a 'journey', which I feel is more accurate. Modern art caused me to reevaluate my entire concept of art. Although I still think Jane Hunt's work is absolutely stunning, it's not as powerful as Baldwin's Mirror (for me, at least). It didn't cause a change in my thinking. (I'm not talking much about Newman's blue painting because I just wanted to show how insane the price of it is. But who knows, it's their money, they know investments more than I do (they're millionaires, I'm not)).

So what is art supposed to be? Is it supposed to be about the artist - the technical mastery - or about the piece itself, alone, and unsupported - the impact of the art? Should art cause a change in thinking? Is it required to? If so, Jane Hunt's work would only be considered art for artists desiring to learn her style. Yet it is art in the aesthetic and traditional way.

Few would consider the Mirror piece to be about aesthetics. Yet is it art if it's not about aesthetics?

In this last century, the definition of visual art has changed to a much broader umbrella. Aesthetic quality no longer fences the definition of art. Art has become broader and means so much more than it ever used to, sometimes with confusing results.

I'm no modern artist. I paint landscapes and portraits and I write stories in the traditional sense. I'm trying to think of a way that literature can expand like visual arts has. It's already expanded in terms of experimental literature, a niche which few people know of (the only truly experimental things I've read were in school).

But art is a tricky word. Putting limitations on art (art, people! It has no limits!) stunts its growth. 

Now I really want to know who the gatekeepers are that define art. Because it's true, I wouldn't think of the Mirror piece as art unless it was in the Tate (meaning, someone told me it's Art, go look and find the art in it). And is it truly art if you have to search for the art? Sometimes it is our own perceptions that cloud our visions, and forcing us to search for art in a piece tends to clear the clouds (even if it feels pretentious at times).

Basically, what is art?

Please please discuss! I have no answers for you.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

And Here. We. GO.

One...Two...We are coming for you.

Three...Four...There will be a slush war.

Five...Six...Get your query fixed.

Seven...Eight...Make your first page great.

Nine...Ten...Yes, we're at it again.

Nightmare on Query Street

October 2014

Face the Fear

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hogwarts Express Leaves Today!

It's September 1st, and all you Harry Potter fans (so, basically everyone in the world) know what this means: IT'S TIME TO GO TO HOGWARTS!!!!!!

The train leaves at 11 o'clock precisely. I'll be on it and you guys should be too (unless you're Muggles).


Is it weird that I love a 'fictional' place more than I love some real-life places I've visited? How could something created and a place I've never been to feel like home? I've been thinking about it and it's just weird; how can readers connect so much to the written word that it feels more real than some aspects of life itself?

This happens with the best books, and there aren't a shortage of them. In fact, I think that's the reason we read: to escape into a world. The better the world is, the more we can escape into it, and the better the book is.

JK Rowling said, on the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premiere, that "Whether you come back by page or by the big screen,Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home." The thing is, that quote is so true because Hogwarts feels like home.


Because along with Harry, we experience the process of finding a home? We are new to the world and so is Harry, and thus we're both immersed into the world and find homes at Hogwarts?

Maybe it's because that's where Harry experiences so much. It's where he grows and learns and goes through incredibly tough times and also great times. Basically, it's home. And the fact that the series centers around this castle that is so detailed and thought-out makes it a home for us. More than that, it's because Hogwarts is Harry's escape, it is also our escape from the real world. Through the third person limited POV, JK Rowling did all this. Is it as technical as that?

Probably. But when it boils down to it, home never feels technical. It's a passion and an emotion. It's why we read.

What do you look for in a book? Why do you read? In what book do you find home?