Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bill Hicks: Another Dead Hero

17 years ago last Saturday, we lost a man who I believe was one of the few true heroes of this age. It wasn’t that he was funny (he was), and it wasn’t because he pointed his finger at society and showed us what was truly important, or how ridiculous most of our lives truly are (he did). It was that he did both at the same time, with his finger raised high in the air at corporate power dons and a conservative establishment that tried to censor and mute him constantly.

Comedians like Dane Cook make me sad. Not because he riffs about puerile shit like a five-year-old off his Ritalin. It’s because he’s so extraordinarily popular. It staggers me that he’s held up as some kind of comedy icon, while a guy like Bill Hick suffered in obscurity for most of his tragically short life. It’s even worse when you consider that Bill has been dead for nearly 20 years and the stuff he talked about is still 100% relevant today. You think the same can be said of Mr Cook and his ilk?

Bill Hicks was a visionary, and a poet, and purveyor of hard truths. And I think about the fact that we don’t have him anymore, now when we so desperately need him, and it makes me want to cry. So I leave you with his closing words from the Revelations tour, in case you were ever wondering: What is the point to life?

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Two Minutes Hate: Dropcrotch jeans

Dear Jeans Manufacturers,

What’s the deal with “drop-crotch” jeans?  What appeal can be found in having a foot-deep crotch and legs thinner than the plot of a Michael Bay movie? Just because my gusset is big enough to park a smegging Volvo inside, doesn’t mean a member of the fairer sex will be fooled into taking a peek. I tried that shit on my wife and it doesn’t work.

Are you trying to come up with a fashion trend more ridiculous than one-piece bellbottom jumpsuits? Or is it that you just enjoy making me look like a deadshit when I try to run?

STOP IT.


The end is (still) nigh

So stories about the end of the days have been hip since Orson Wells was a drunken fumble in the back of his father’s jalopy (or whatever the hell you fumbled your lady in the back seat of back in 1915), but never, it seems, so much as now.

Whether you’re talking the staggering (har, har) Rise of the Zombie in popular fictions/videogames/film/television, the annual big-budget shitty disaster film, the increasing popularity of dystopian themes in literary circles or even (enormously popular) YA literature, everyone seems to enjoy savoring the notion of “the end of the world”.

Or, more accurately, the end of humanity. Because let’s face it folks, the world is going to get on just fine without us.

So why do we seem ever more in love with the notion of mass extinction and the collapse of this construct we’ve named society? Why has the ending of it remained a constant in our entertainment over the past thirty years and beyond? Since the setting of my book (STORMDANCER, out in spring 2012 through Thomas Dunne & Tor Uk plugplugplug) could be accurately described as dystopian, I’ve been having a think about the possibilities. Here’s my thoughts, for what they’re worth:

Everybody wants to be a hero. In the world we live, most people aren’t in love with their lives. They work jobs they hate to pay the credit card bills they racked up buying shit they don’t need. If they’re lucky, they enjoy fifteen minutes of fame in a world that consumes flavors of the month in moments. You’re never going to be a rock god or a movie star. You’re never going to beat the bad guy and get the pretty girl. Why? Because you’re ordinary, son.

But in dystopia, the ordinary folks are the heroes. In a zombie apocalypse, the only pre-requisite to play the part of “hero” is to be standing among the ranks of the “not yet eaten”. Post nuclear war? Still alive? Hot damn kiddo, welcome to the role of protagonist. Doesn’t matter if you were an accountant in your former life. Doesn’t matter if you’ve never kissed a pretty boy before, because there’s one standing right there, and you’re the only girl with a pulse or an aversion to eating human flesh for miles around. You are SO IN.

The Culture of Fear. Threat is a great motivator – advertisers have known that for decades. You sell screen doors? You just need to convince the world there’s a bad guy outside who wants in. You sell life insurance? You just need to convince people they’re gonna die. A culture of a fear is a culture of consumption – consuming to both alleviate the fear through goods and services to protect/deflect, and to numb/escape the fears that can’t actually be deal with in any real sense.

But I genuinely believe that enough of that threat has soaked into the zeitgeist that it needs to manifest in ways that we can deal with it mentally, albeit indirectly. We see the mainstream media whipped into a frenzy over SARS, AIDS, anthrax attacks. So we create dystopias born of viruses to help us push the real fear into the realm of “make-believe”. We have melting polar caps, rising global temperatures, flood and drought. So we make the big budget disasterpieces where Mother Nature herself turns against us. We have fear of gods, fear of war, fear of outsiders, fear of each other. And we turn that fear into entertainment, either as a means to actually deal with it, or to marginalize it, or to laugh at it. I have no idea which. Maybe all three.

Fear as a Drug. Let’s face it – people like being scared (if we didn’t, Stephen King would be a squintillionaire). We like to imagine “what would it be like?” We like to feel our pulses race and our breath come faster. We like to be horrified. As a culture, we’re in love with that endorphin rush, that moment of adrenaline kicking in, coupled with that overarching knowledge that it’s “not real”, that it’s all “pretend”.

It’s all pretend, right?

Pessimism. This is where I come in. I think a lot of the people in western society can sense there’s something deeply wrong with the world we’ve crafted for ourselves. While polar ice caps are melting, people spend vast amounts of time an energy arguing (and even killing each other) over what flavor of flying spaghetti monster they believe in, or the gender of the consenting adult they would like to get busy with. 90% of our wealth is controlled by 10% of our population. Somewhere between 30 – 150 species are rendered extinct every day as a result of human activity. A soup of plastic particles the size of the continental United States is floating in the northern pacific Gyre. One and a half acres of rainforest are chopped down every second. And deep down, all of us feel it in our bones.

There is something wrong with this picture.

In dystopia, the bad guys get what they deserve. It’s up to the common man/woman/child to find the new way, to forge the new path, setting aside the crimes of the past to make a better tomorrow. All the wealth and power of the neo-aristos means nothing in the face of zombie-geddon or virulent plague or neutron holocaust. Armageddon is the great equalizer – the eraser that wipes the slate clean and gives regular “good’ people that chance to build something better.

And finally Optimism. because in the realm of fantasy, it’s a rare story indeed that doesn’t end with the good guys winning. Sure the planet might be FUBAR’ed, and society in ruins, but there are still honest everymen/women left behind to build something out of the ashes. In almost every dystopian setting I’ve ever seen, humanity survives. In the bleakest scenarios being proposed by modern-day scientists (not fiction writers, mind), humanity doesn’t, and old Mother Earth is left with a dirty slate in which to craft the ascendancy of her next favored species.

And that’s an epilogue most of us can’t bear to imagine, so we fool ourselves by writing our own.

Feeling better?!


Tunes

The inimitable Ms Lindsay Ribar has demanded “a blog post on music and how it makes writers write better. Because it is true facts”. Far be it from me to deny the lass who plucked me from slush hell. I march like a robot zombie to obey her commands. Robot zombies are twice as cool, ok?

A note before we begin: Music is one of my top 5 reasons for living. I don’t go a day without listening to the bands I love. I sort my CDs alphabetically and chronologically on my shelves (ie, oldest album left, newest album on the right – yes, I know, I know…), and take more pride in them than my books. I’m a married man on the rough side of 30, and I still sleep out for concert tickets and call in sick to work so I can get good spots in line the day of the gig. If you don’t listen to music, I do not understand you. You are “an other”. If you like the same kind of music I do, chances are I can ignore pretty much ignore all of your other personality defects, including the fact that you cooked and ate your own mum (if you like the same kind of music I do, chances are good that you actually did this).

But how does listening to tunes make you a better writer (because I firmly believe it does) ?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the last week, and I’ve come up with the following thoughts, for whatever they’re worth:

Brevity = Power: Novelists are lucky in some respects. We get 90, 000+ words to weave our stories and show off our chops. Lyricists have to bring arenas to their feet with maybe 100 – 150 words, total. Song lyrics show us the power of brevity; how a single phrase, or even a single word in the right context and place can say more than an entire novel ever could. How a notion as complex as love, or hatred or lust can be summarised with a handful of syllables. Unless you’re the kind to write 2,500 word sentences about a cup of chamomile tea, I’ve been told quicker and simpler is usually better when it comes to writing.

Consider, if you will:

“I do formally and wholeheartedly refuse to comply with your command, good sir, and would furthermore like to give insult of the most profound sort, which I, being a gentleman, am naturally loathe to utter aloud.”

vs

“Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

Rhythm and structure: To riff off the mighty Bruce “Boards don’t hit back” Lee, good writing is like water. It can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash. Understanding concepts like rhythm – not only in a musical, but also a lyrical sense – helps you build mood simply through the pacing and structures of your words, let alone the actual words themselves.

This notion of “flow” might not be something you don’t consciously think about (I certainly don’t). But I know how sentences and paragraphs feel when I read them, what kind of structures illicit certain responses. How short. And sharp. Means threat. How a really long sentence with no punctuation can help to evoke a sense of pace or need because you don’t give your reader time to think or reflect or even breathe because our minds read words the way we’d speak them aloud. How inserting a comma (pause) can change the tone of a sentence. How repetition can re-enforce a point,  how repetition can re-enforce a point and how repetition can re-enforce a point. Oh, snap.

Emotional content: Riffing on Bruce Lee hard today, it seems. Good lyrics are essentially poetry. Good lyrics can be steeped in metaphor and simile, or can be straight up reportage, but they can speak volumes about concepts like “love” or “loss’ without ever actually using those words at all. (I’m talking about good lyrics here, not Beibershite). Understanding how good lyrics do this is a good step towards being able to do it yourself.

The most profound imagery I’ve read is in song lyrics. To put it another way, how many lines from books can you quote that make the hairs on your arms stand on end? Now how many lyrics can you quote that do the same? And yes, this is partially due to the fact that you listen to your favourite songs all the time, and read your favourite book maybe twice/three times in your life. But there goes that “power of repetition” thing I was talking about in point 2.

Rules?: The best music is always the music that takes an existing paradigm and kicks it in the teeth. If the constant evolution of music (and again, I’m not talking about pop here) teaches us one thing, it’s that there are very few rules worth complying with. That the people who do something truly beyond the norm, with a little bit of luck and talent, are the people who do something truly special. Good musicians make you look at the world differently, whether it’s a different way of playing (drop-A tuning, or 22/7 timing, or whatever) or just a different take on the notion of the construct itself. Time was when everyone thought a rock band was a singer, drummer, guitarist and bass player. And then you get bands like the Dresden Dolls or the Decemberists who just flip that notion the bird.

Take a notion like “the good guys always win” or “the hero always gets the girl/guy/tentacle beast” or “my protagonist must, under no circumstances, be a fucking twat that my readers will want to stab” and flip it off. You’ll wind up with something a damn sight more interesting than you probably would have. Sure, it might not be good, but it’ll be something different at least. “Good” is where talent and hard work and a whole lot of luck come in. But “different” is a damn good start.

Broader horizons: Good music can challenge your world view, make you think about  stuff outside your microcosm. Whether it’s an alternate take on drugs, sexuality, or relationships, or shooting you a strange word like “intifada” or “Zapatista(which you then wiki and holy shit, you learned something), good music, like a good film or book, challenges you. And afterwards, the world always looks a little bit different than the moment before you heard it.

Thinking different. Learning stuff. I hear they’re good for you as a person, whether you’re a writer or not.

The subliminal: There’s something visceral here. It’s a truth that’s hard to define. It lives somewhere in that place between the PA system and the crowd, in that split second between the end of the intro music and the first chord. It’s primal, and it’s unspoken and it’s something that lives inside everyone, even if some people refuse to listen to it.

Music transcends the limitations of language, overcomes the artificial barriers that humans have constructed to keep ourselves apart from one another. There’s something in the language of the music we love that lets us know we’re alive, conscious of the breath in our lungs and the blood in our veins. An understanding.

Writers are communicators. We tell stories, we send messages to our readers for them to absorb and understand and take away what they will. Consider that, and then consider the first messages ever sent from one human being to another was probably on the drums.

Then turn that shit up loud.

“And everything owes its existence,
Solely and completely to sound.
Sound is a factor which holds us together.
Sound is the basis of form and shape.
Put that into the modern idiom, and say;
Into the great voids of space came a sound,
and matter took shape.”


The Auction

When I learned about the concept of manuscripts going to auction, I always imagined a very swanky affair. Agents and Editors would turn up to some old building in uptown NYC, dressed in after-nine attire, black tie as far as the eye could see. The walls would be lined with mahogany and the carpet would be the color of dried blood, and beautiful women in cocktail dresses with low-cut backs would be serving drinks on silver trays.

The Publishers would watch each other over the rims of their martinis, smoking cigars and glowering at their various nemeses, giving polite nods to the few competitors they didn’t want to glass in the face. And finally some little old english fellow would step up to a podium and announce the name of the author and the book to be bid upon, maybe read a passage or two, and commence the bidding. Little paddles with numbers would be waved and the price would spiral higher, and finally the agent of the writer in question would put in a call with the happy news that his client could finally buy that island in the Pacific he/she always wanted.

Turns out, it’s just a bunch of emails flying back and forth.

Still, not many people get to live through it, so I thought I’d spell out the process step by step. Names and exact figures will be avoided to protect the innocent and discourage kidnapping attempts upon my family members. Gather around, my lovelies, and let me take you back to a bygone decade; the halcyon days of the wide-eyed Naughties:

18 November 2010: I finish my agent requested revisions on STORMDANCER. Ms Lindsay Ribar bundles it up with some high-grade crack cocaine and sends it out to “the big seven”. Realising the States is a few days away from Thanksgiving and the notoriously slow post-Thanksgiving/Xmas slump, I resign myself to hearing nothing until 2011, and decide to devote the next seven weeks to mastering 5-star “Battery” on Expert Level Guitar Hero: Metallica.

I fail. Holy shit, those triples are murder.

7 December: I get an email from my agent, the mighty Matt Bialer. We don’t have an offer, but we have a big house (House X) asking if I’d be willing to make my protagonist two years older for the adult market. Confirming that the Pope is indeed, still Catholic, I type “omgomgomgomgomg”, then delete it and replace with “Yes, that will be perfectly acceptable, thank you kind sir.”

9 December: I wake up and check my email. I sit bolt upright in bed, look at my wife and say “Holy shit, I’ve been offered a two-book deal.” All data pertaining to the next three days has been deleted from memory banks, owing to overindulgence in smooth Kentucky malt liquor. Headache lingers for several weeks. *

*No animals were harmed in the making of this bender.

16 December: We get a second offer, this time from St Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne (I can mention this name, because… oh wait, I don’t want to spoil it…) . Still a two-book deal. More green. I enquire as to the nature of the submissions Ms Ribar sent out, and whether or not they were accompanied by burly men who threatened to break thumbs. Ms Ribar refuses to confirm or deny presence of hired goons with all SJGA subs. Intimates it would be bad for my health to continue this line of enquiry.

Xmas break: I fly back to the city that spawned me. My relatives say polite things when I tell them I have two offers on my book. They ask me what it’s about. I utterly fail to describe it coherently in less than twenty sentences. Realise that my elevator pitch is worthless to non-geeks/people outside the publishing world. I get drunk on Xmas day for the first time in my life. Hey, it was 40 degrees Celsius, and my Aunt gave me a bottle of Jacks.

9 January: I’m informed we have “interest” on STORMDANCER from a third party: House Y, which is an imprint of another bigger House, Z. Not even being able to begin to wrap my head around how these imprints work, or why Publishing Houses have imprints at all, or how the same editor can work at multiple imprints and omgbrainhurts, I instead ask what “interest” means. Apparently it’s somewhere between an offer and a punch in the baby-maker.

I say “that sounds awesome”.

12 January: House Y make an offer, a two book deal topping St Martin’s. House X drops out of the race.

14 January: Strange people start subbing to my Twitter feed. Like, editors of huge Publishing Houses who edit some of my favourite authors in the entire fucking world. The notion that this is “real” starts to dawn upon me. Brain explodes, I flatline in bed. Revived by valiant Jack Russell Terrier and his hideous early morning dog breath.

Seriously, it’s like pixies break into the house during the night and shit in his mouth…

19 January: St Martin’s come back with two different offers, both for more money. The two offers are for “World English Rights” (nice $), and “World Rights” (nicer $). I blink stupidly. My agent explains we can buy more yachts if we sell the world non-english rights separately. I tell him “I am all about the more yachts thing.” He nods sagely, and takes the World English offer back to House Y. He tells me that international affiliates of House Y and St Martin’s have been consulted, and are all getting excited about the book. He also tells me to buy some cigars.

I don’t tell him, but cigars make me feel kinda nauseous.

Same day, House Y match the offer, but put a three-book deal on the table. Welcome to Trilogy Town, Mr Kristoff, we hope you enjoy your stay, the cocaine and prostitutes are lovely this time of year.

SMP agree to also put up a three-book deal, and up their offer. House Y match the offer, with “separate accounting” as opposed to SMP’s offer of “joint accounting”.

Romantic interlude: Joint accounting means that you have to earn out the entire advance ( the value of all three books) before you get any royalties. “Separate accounting” means each book is treated as a separate advance, which must be earned by each individual book before royalties start coming in. Apparently, separate is better. I have no brain for maths, so I just nod my head (via email – Matt wouldn’t be able to see me if I just nodded my head at the computer, you are just being silly now)

At this point, it finally dawns on me that STORMDANCER is on auction. There are no swanky mahogany clubs or backless cocktail dresses, but two major publishers are bid-counter bidding on my book. MY BOOK. The one that I wrote! The one that, two months before, I was seriously considering shipping out to freelance editors so I could work out what was wrong with it, and why nobody liked it.

My wife offers to slap me. I decline with thanks.

21 January: SMP come back with more money. I’m getting the feeling they want it bad. I practice my poker face in the mirror. I realise that “holy shit, I kinda do look a little like Dave Grohl…”

26 January: House Y counter-offer again. SMP beat their offer. House Y match SMP’s bid. I’ve never had two beautiful women have a fight over me before, but I imagine this is kinda how it might feel. Like, not a pillow fight in skimpy nighties where they might accidentally kiss or anything. A full on, split-knuckle, spitting-teeth kind of fist fight.

I keep waking up at odd hours of the night to check my gmail.  I’m trying to write the sequel to STORMDANCER and I can’t really focus on it. Everything I type is worse than my dog’s morning breath.

27 January: SMP come back again with a better offer. They give me a pitch that just about blows my head clean off.

Firstly, the concept that these people are now trying to convince me to run with them is an utterly foreign one. For more than a year, I’ve been chasing around after Publishing industry folk, trying to get a minute of their time or a reply to an email. And now I’m the one being wooed. I can’t really articulate how this made me feel. Humbled and amazed. So overwhelmingly grateful that even now, typing this, my hands get a little shaky.

Secondly, the pitch is amazing. Forget the money. This had never been about the advance for me. I said right at the start of the process to Matt and Lindsay that I didn’t care about the $. That I’d rather sign with a House for $50 if they were going to push me as hard as they could, than sign for $50k to a house where I was just another deal. SMP and their sister imprint Tor UK are offering a lead spot amongst their debut authors in 2012. People with titles like “Associate Publisher” and “Executive Editor” are going to be my point-men. I’m getting to work with people who edit authors that are at the top of the industry; just mind-blowing, amazing writers.

House Y bows out. They can’t go any higher. The auction is done. I have a three-book deal. I feel like I have concussion, as if the whole world is underwater. Even now, sitting here typing about it, it doesn’t feel the slightest bit real. I tweet to the editor who missed out, saying that I was really sorry, and to give her my thanks. She was lovely, and enthusiastic and terribly nice, and I feel bad about letting her down.

A few days later, my new editors email me to say hello. And now I sit here, awaiting my revision notes, trying to get my head around it all. Utterly blown away.

That’s it. The tale is done, my lovelies. Sorry if it was dull, but it’s probably the second most important thing to ever happen in my life, so you’ll forgive me if I blither like an idiot about it for a while longer.

ot desu teg ll’uoy gnihtemos s’ti tub ,elttil a truh yam sihT


Lindsay Ribar Interview

‘Tis my distinct pleasure to be working with some pretty great people right now, one of whom is Ms Lindsay Ribar at Sanford J Greenburger. Lindsay is the woman who plucked me out of the slush pile, said nice things about my book to her boss and to whom I owe an extraordinary amount of expensive red wine.

She was nice enough to share a bit of her time to answer some questions for me about life, the universe and publishing. Considering she’s dealing with over a hundred submissions every week in addition to looking for her own clients, being an agented author herself (update – Lindsay’s trilogy sold to Dial/Penguin – go, you good thing!), and dealing with my colossal ego, everyone should nod their heads and say “Thank you Lindsayyyyy” in that sing-song voice that pre-schoolers use.

…I mean it. Sing godammit.

Hello Lindsay, thanks for taking the time to type to us. Just in case someone googled “Lindsay Ribar Interview” without knowing who the hell you are, please state your name, occupation, and star sign for the record.

Name: Lindsay T. Ribar. I am not telling you what the T stands for. I like to maintain an air of mystery.
Occupation: Assistant to Matt Bialer, literary agent extraordinaire. Also, junior agent in my own right, which basically means that while my primary job is still assisting Matt, I am also actively seeking clients of my own.
Star sign: Taurus. Draw whatever conclusions you want. You’ll probably be right.

Before we proceed, do you have any criminal convictions I should be aware of?

I have been convicted, multiple times, of being too awesome. Fortunately they don’t send you to jail for that. 🙂

They actually do send you to jail for that in England. OK, quick “gettin’ to know you” stuff:

Last book you read that was so good it gave you goosebumps:

You mean aside from STORMDANCER? (this question was a test, which Lindsay passed) Hmmm, probably A LOVE STORY STARRING MY DEAD BEST FRIEND.  It’s a gorgeous young adult book by a first-time author, and I am totally unashamed to say that it had me in tears in more places than one.

You are SUCH a girl. Last film you saw that didn’t make you wonder how they taught a monkey to type:

Last film of that nature was entitled HEY DUDE LAY OFF THE GENDER STEREOTYPES.  That is a lie. To my knowledge, there is no such film (yet).  But I actually saw TRUE GRIT over the weekend, and completely loved it.  (For the record, it did not make me cry.)

The one album you’d gladly be marooned on a desert island with. A proper desert island please, not a nonsensical one with polar bears and a perpetually unshaven – yet his chest is still as smooth as the second he walked out of the salon – Josh Holloway:

Please be aware that while I never made it past season two of that particular show, I have absolutely nothing against Josh Holloway and his manly stubble.  But hmm, desert island discs.  Right now, I’d probably pick NOTHING RHYMES WITH WOMAN by Carbon Leaf.  They’re a fantastic indie band out of Virginia, and their music is a really cool blend of Celtic, alternative, and straight-up rock.  Given the option of a second album (and you would give me that option, right? of course you would) (No I would not, but anyway…), I’d go with STARING DOWN THE BRILLIANT DREAM, the Indigo Girls’ most recent live album.

Jacob or Edward?

I am going to pretend you didn’t ask that. In fact, what I am sure you meant to ask was “Peeta or Gale?” in which case I am Team Gale Even Though They Are Totally Wrong For Each Other.

Alrighty, enough of the getting to know you stuff. Give us a breakdown of a day in the life of Lindsay Ribar.

Well, on the rare day that I’m NOT marooned on a desert island with Josh Holloway and a single CD (I do get a CD player too, right?) (Hell, no), it goes something like this:

Early o’clock: My alarm goes off. I curse the heavens and drag myself out of bed.
Still-early o’clock: I arrive at work and make a caffeinated beverage for myself while my computer boots up. I avoid saying too many words to other human beings until after the consumption of said beverage.
Morning: I read queries! I read partials! I send rejection letters and manuscript requests! I touch base with all the people I need to touch base with!
One o’clock-ish: I venture outside to seek sustenance and breathe the fresh New York air.  Maybe I even have a lunch date with a colleague.
Afternoon: I settle in, preferably with a cup of tea and some snacks, to get some serious full-manuscript reading done.  Sometimes office-related paperwork sneaks in somewhere.
After-work o’clock: I do some writing at home, maybe hit the gym (I am actually one of those people who gets a lot of work-reading done while on the elliptical machine), maybe take over a table at a coffee shop, maybe go to English Country Dancing (??!?).  All this is dependent, of course, on my not having concert tickets.  If I do have concert tickets, which is often, my evening goes like this: Line up for concert, claim front-row spot at concert, cheer loudly during concert, walk to nearest public transportation hub while gushing with my friends about concert.
Late o’clock: Climb into my weird little loft bed and dream about manuscripts.

It’s not that exciting.  But it happens in New York, which means at least it is loud.

Name three things that make you want to start stabbing yourself in the eyes and screaming whilst reading a query letter.

Only three? I mean… wow, that’s a hard one!  Here are my top three of today:

– Some variation on the phrase “You are stupid if you don’t sign my book”
– One or more typos in the very first sentence of the letter
– An introduction that reads “Dear [name that is neither Bialer nor Ribar]”

A special mention goes out to any query in which the word “query” is misspelled.

Name three things that are 100% guaranteed to make you run into Matt’s office with a manuscript and say “omgomgomgomgomgomg”.

Writing, writing, and writing.  I know that’s a total cheat of an answer, but it’s true. There is no single thing that will actually guarantee arm-flailing enthusiasm over a manuscript.  Even my personal favorite plot elements (double identities, werewolves, angsty backstories, a solid love story, etc.) can be a turnoff if written poorly. When a manuscript works for me, it’s always because of a bazillion different elements coming together well. But even after all those elements are there, the quality of the writing can still make it or break it.  Bad writing can kill a great story, just as good writing can save a just-okay story.  (And a just-okay story can often be edited into a great story, if everyone’s on the same page about where said story needs to go.)

Is the state of affairs in the super-happy sunshine candyland world of modern publishing as grim as many pundits are saying?

Eh, I don’t think so.  What I do think is that the industry is changing, largely in part due to the increasing popularity of E-books.  The long-term effects of electronic publishing are still an unknown quantity, and it’s hard to know how to adapt to a changing industry when you don’t yet know what the changes mean.  But as far as what’s going on now: agents are still signing books, editors are still buying books, readers are still reading books. I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon.

You’ve said that in addition to being Matt Bialer’s super-powered assistant, you’re also an agent in the spare three minutes you enjoy every day. What kind of stuff are you looking for?

 Oh, come off it. The part about superpowers was merely implied.  But yes, I am doing a bit of agenting as well!  Right now I am focusing my search on YA and middle grade, both SFF and non-genre.  But really, I’ll snap up anything that comes my way, if it’s awesome enough.

Best way for a querying writer to get your attention? (the positive kind, not the restraining-order kind)

You mean aside from Writing A Good Book?  (Har har.) In all seriousness: follow our query protocol (it’s on the website), don’t follow up with angry phone calls, be concise, and for heaven’s sake, proofread your submission materials!

Best advice you could give to any aspiring author?

Do your research.  If you are a writer who is serious about being published, get online, talk to people, read blogs, read Q&A’s, stalk people on Twitter, whatever it takes to be informed.  There is plenty of information out there about what the market is like, who’s buying/selling what, which books are getting serious attention, which trends are rising/falling, etc., and if you know what’s going on, you’re already ahead of the game.

Does the “T” stand for “Tiffany”?
Teresa. But you were close! (Not really.)

No, not really 😦

Submissions for Lindsay or Matt Bialer can be emailed to LRibar [at] sjga [dot] com, or snailmailed to

55 fifth avenue
new york, ny 10003

You can totally stalk her on Twitter here.