Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hey brother, can you spare a...

few dollars to help out folks who were affected by the hurricanes?

My short story “Merry Christmas, Panama 1989” is among the works chosen for Stories of Strength, a 333-page anthology created to help the vicims of this year's hurricanes. I've experienced the tremendous power of Mother Nature, and know how powerless she made me feel. Stories of Strength gave me a chance to use writing as a way to help the survivors of Katrina, Rita, Wilma and whatever we name the next deadly storm. 100 percent of the proceeds from Stories of Strength will go to disaster relief charities, including the Red Cross, Americares, and the Salvation Army. For those of you from Oklahoma, that means we're givin 'em all of the money, even the pennies.

Please consider giving us a hand. Buy a copy and give it to someone you know who needs a little extra strength. The holidays are around the corner, and this book will make a great gift. If you review books, I'd love to send you a pdf version of Stories of Strength. Review copies of the bound book are available, but in limited quantities, so I am buying the review copies I send out. I'd be happy to send you one if you have enough audience to make it worthwhile. Hey, it's for charity, why not buy a copy for yourself. The remainder of this post comes directly from our official press release.

Headed by Jenna Glatzer, author of acclaimed Celine Dion biography For Keeps, this project attracted contributions from many well-known writers, including a story and an original hymn by award-winning science fiction novelist Orson Scott Card, an essay by famed actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek, Stand By Me), and a short story from Christian romance author Robin Lee Hatcher.With more than 100 pieces from writers all over the world, and the gracious efforts of prominent editors and graphic designers, Stories of Strength is a tribute to the human spirit: celebrating true stories of courage and endurance in challenging situations that range from the death of a child to living through natural disasters, to smaller-scale trials, like dealing with returning an overdue book to the local Library Troll.

Alternating between tear-jerking and humorous, Stories of Strength is guaranteed to inspire and remind readers that the human spirit knows no boundaries. “Many people have said they plan to order copies for everyone on their holiday list,” says Jenna Glatzer. “What a fantastic way to give a present that also helps people rebuild their lives.” The writers hope to turn their words into sizeable long-term contributions to disaster relief charities.

In addition to the writers’ donations, publishing company Lulu ( is generously donating its profits from the project. Lulu will also donate several media review copies.Most writers are available for interviews, readings, and book signings. Ordering details are at The book will be available direct from Lulu on November 1, 2005, and available to order from bookstores worldwide soon thereafter.

Book details:
Stories of Strength
Editor/Publisher: Jenna Glatzer
Publishing services provided by Lulu
ISBN: 1-4116-5503-6
Release date: November 1, 2005
333 pagesPrice: $15.95
Contact: Mark Pettus

Mark Pettus,
Sunday, October 30, 2005

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dear Anonymous,
I love you.

I grew up in a small town. If you grow up in a small town, and never move away, you'll spend your life surrounded by people who remember:

No wait, scratch that one. Let's just say they remember every embarrassing thing that ever happened to you.

I moved to Dallas right after high school. Home of the Dallas Cowboys, and the Cowboy Cheerleaders. Dallas had a Playboy Club, and a sister city, Ft. Worth, which looked and acted like a small West Texas town. In between the two was Arlington, home of Six Flags over Texas, and Irving, home of the Cowboys Cheerleaders. What I liked best about Dallas, next of course to the Cowboys Cheerleaders, was that everyone was anonymous. What happened on lower Greenville stayed on lower Greenville. Those people didn't know who the hell you were, and you probably wouldn't ever see them again, not even the ones who promised to call. You could do what you wanted, when you wanted, and with whom you wanted, and never worry about tomorrow. I loved it. Anonymity was right up my alley. No names baby, just live for the moment.

When the internet came along, my anonymity took on a new life. I created an online persona and gave him a name. Then, just for fun, I gave him another name, in case people wanted to know who he really was. Multi-layered anonymity. Every small town boy's dream. Alas, those days are gone. It's time to own up to who I am.

My name is Mark, and I'm a writer. I write things I wouldn't be embarrassed to read about in tomorrow's paper (I write for the paper). Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes I want to rip someone a new anal orifice. Sometimes it's hard to be nice, especially here in blogdom, or on one of the writers forums, but I bite my tongue and remain civil. Occasionally I pound out an angry email and send it to someone I trust. They laugh and think I'm silly, then they discretely delete my email. I think that's healthy, because that's what we do in real life. We bite our tongues, and remain civil. We choose our battles, and avoid the ones we can't win, and when we stand up and give our names, it's for the things we really believe in. That's how civilized society works.

Unfortunately, there are still people who don't know that the e-world is now a part of civilized society. Anonymity has been accepted as a tool, an aid to good communication. Agent 007, Miss Snark, litagent, and scores of other people use the anonymity of the blogosphere to say things that they probably couldn't otherwise say for fear of professional reprisals. This is a good thing. My current bedtime book is The Erotic Reader, by Anonymous. In this case, Anonymous is obviously a talented historical romance writer who doesn't want to deal with an albatross of graphic erotica. This is a good thing. Using an anonymous tag to hide behind while you insult people; bloggers, commenters, and other writers, is not a good thing. Treat it like the brick and mortar world, if you're writing something you wouldn't sign your name to, maybe you shouldn't write it.

On the other hand, if you are abrasive, obnoxious, and a total pig, maybe a layer of anonymity is a good idea. One writer I know has a bad case of the know-it-alls. If the first rule of writing is that there are no rules, it is the only rule that Mr. Know-it-all doesn't know. No matter what anyone else thinks, says, or does, he is there to tell them they're wrong. If the problem were just how much he annoyed me, I'd bite my tongue, and remain civil. The problem is he uses his real name, and he doesn't know how to bite his tongue and remain civil. I'm certain his boorish behavior has hurt his writing career. You see, nothing is more annoying to those of us who know it all, than those of you who think you do.

I'd tell him about it, too, if I could do it anonymously.

p.s. To the anonymous lady who said the really nice things to me in that email: Thank You. Please feel free to stroke my ego, or anything else, anytime you desire.

second post script. If you'd like to get updates in your email, there's a link over on the left somewhere. I'm not sure if it works, butI'm willing to give it a try if you are.

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, October 29, 2005

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I wish it was a lot less snarky world

No, really, that's what she said.

I just watched Uma Thurman on Katy Couric. (Now there's a visual that'll stay with me all day). I just watched Katy Couric interview Uma Thurman. They both used snarky in a sentence at least twice (talk about your zeitgeist), and Uma finished with, "I wish it was a lot less snarky world."

Of course, this meant I had to read Miss Snark. She's back from Frankfurt, and as full of pith and vinegar as her Snarklings expect... or maybe not. On her first day back, she wrote something decidedly UN-Snarky. This little essay is about being polite. No, really. Go read it.

"IF an agent elects to accept e-queries, common courtesy dictates a response should be sent. It can be a form response "thank you but not right for us" but there should still be something.

This hogwash about we'll get back to you if we're interested is ridiculous. If you don't want to deal with queries then DON'T but to just blithely disregard them as though some sort of Ridley Scott robot is on the other end and not a human being is just plain BAD MANNERS."
Can I have an Amen? Thank you brothers and sisters.

Now, I don't mind if I don't get a response, I just do the math.

No-Response = Response-No

Easy enough.

What I do mind, is not knowing if they even received my submission. With snail-mail, it isn't an issue. Put a stamp on an envelope, and it's gets there. 99.99875% of the time. With email, not so much. Sometimes emails just catch a ship to the grey havens and go into the west, never to be seen again. But, there is an easy fix. Auto-responders. For every email that comes in, one goes out. Automatically.

We received your email. We'll respond in __ years. Good luck with your career. Don't call us. We'll call you.
In the electronic age, amazing things are possible. A nine-year-old can set up an auto-responder (think: Vacation Away Message), and since some of the websites I've seen were obviously designed by a nine-year-old, why aren't they using this wonderful tool?

In too many ways, common courtesy has become uncommon. The world has gone snarky. Thank you, yes ma'am, and please are words and phrases now reserved for the bedroom (sorry, it's that Uma on Katy visual again). Like Miss Thurman and Miss Snark, sometimes I wish it was a lot less snarky world.

Mark Pettus,
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Up, down, and all around.

Three things came in the mail today.

1) A personalized rejection letter from one of the first agents I queried, Ann Rittenberg. She didn't request a look at my partials, but she did send me a very nice letter on her personal letterhead. If it is a form rejection, she has the best form letter in the business. If it isn't, I wonder why my query letter warranted a personal response but not a request for more material? I chose Ann because of a speech she gave where she described her client list as damaged -- people who were either from broken homes, or had suffered extreme tragedy, or Texans. Transit Gloria is a story about a Texas family that is destroyed by adultery, divorce, and murder -- and inspired by real events in my life, so I thought it might fit into her list. Apparently, I thought wrong. I know. Boo - freakin - hoo.

2) The pages that Kathryn Wall read and edited for me. Based on our conversations, I knew what to expect, and wasn't disappointed. Red pencils are more expensive than No. 2s, and between pencils and the return postage, Kathryn invested quite a bit in my manuscript, but I may need to quit letting people give me advice. My editors are duelling. What one puts in, the next takes out, and vice versa. Kathryn liked more than I gave her (or myself) credit for. Among the edit marks I found several instances of "I like this," and "Very original." I told Kathryn that after her editing, I probably qualified for the Guiness Book of World Records as the author of the most edited first 3 chapters in a novel. That was before I got the next envelope.

3) An invitation to send my first forty pages to an editor at Random House. I met him at the writers conference I attended a few weeks ago, and he is going to critique my work. I hope he likes my first forty pages, particularly since he will be the fifth professional to go through them with a red pencil in hand. I'm paying for the return postage myself this time, but he's buying his own pencils. I'm almost certain the Guiness Folks will be contacting me soon.

Hopefully, I will have news about Stories of Strength this weekend. If I do, I'll update you here.

Also discovered one of my online amigos getting a mention at the high altar of blogdom. Jill Miller Zimon got a nod at the Public Journalism Network for making waves..

Check out Serentity J. Banks's essay on synopses. I've read part of her book, and her synopsis and she is damned good, folks.

Mark Pettus,
Friday, October 21, 2005

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A couple of thoughts on critiques

I am, undoubtedly, one of the most arrogant S.O.B.s to ever put pen to paper. Trust me. If I'd known it was possible, I would have nominated my high school essay, What I did this Summer, for a Pulitzer. Everything I've ever written was magnificent. Me, and Willy the Shakes, we're the real deal, Master Wordmiths, Men of Letters...


Every day I learn something about writing. My writing library started with Webster's and Roget's, and has expanded to fill five 6-foot shelves. I own the Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Manual of Style, and three copies of the Elements of Style. I have On Writing in writing, and On Writing on tape. I've read Bird by Bird, and Word by Word, and dozens of other books on the art and craft of being a crafty artist, but every single day, I learn something new.

Before I sent Transit Gloria into the world, I had two professional editors, and a pretty well-known writer, go through it line by line. I cut, and slashed, and burned, and when I felt ready, I gave it wings and let it fly.

Last week, with parts of manuscripts floating all over New York, California, and states in between, a successful author offered to critique my work. Last night I visited with her, and she told me three different ways to improve -- my first 15 pages -- ARRRRGGGGHH!!!

She was aware of the god-like status we mere humans elevate our best-selling brethren to, and she was afraid her critique would crush my soul, so she preceeded her criticism with a list of things I had done right. I don't remember that list (none of us remember the good reviews), but she need not have worried. The first couple of times someone critiqued my work, I felt I had been kicked in the chest. Their criticism knocked the wind out of my lungs, and left me gasping for air. I felt the same way about my first rejection letter. Not any more. Now, I feel about criticism of my work the same way I feel about someone saying a picture is crooked.

You don't get your feelings hurt when someone tells you about a crooked picture, do you? No? Of course you don't. You just get your tools and go to work fixing it. That is how professional writers have to take criticism. If someone says something needs to be fixed, we should just get our tools and fix it.

Guess what I'm doing this weekend?

Yep. Straightening pictures, all weekend long.

p.s. If you haven't already read Kathryn Wall's books, I highly recommend them. She writes mysteries about a retired accountant, and sometime detective, named Bay Tanner. Kathy is... you guessed it... a retired accountant, with a mind like a steel trap. Her latest, Resurrection Road, is available from St. Martin's Press. You can find it at all the big-named book sellers, but Kathy is a fan of local independent book-sellers, and so am I. Check it out.

Mark Pettus,
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Quite Write, the Query Letter Site

Writers are a funny group. We all want other writers to succeed, and we're happy to reach down and pull someone up behind us. Unfortunately, when we reach down, the writer below us usually tries to pull us off the ladder.

We're all guilty. We want to be known as the successful writer who hasn't forgotten where he came from, but first we need to be successful, so we fight our way to the top with all the fierce competitiveness of those heroic tadpoles on the Disovery Channel's documentary about conception (When you get depressed, remind yourself that billions of sperm entered THAT race, but YOU won).

One writer I know, when he encounters discouraged fellow scribes, puts a gentle hand on their shoulders and tells them they should just give up; that the business of writing will only contaminate their artistic souls, and if they want to survive with their integrity intact they must never again subject their vision to the callous brand of capitalism that is rampant in the world of agents and editors. I'm not sure if he later asks them for the phone numbers and email addresses of all their contacts, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's what I would do.

What has surprised me, though, is the generosity of one particular group of struggling scribes, how much they help each other, and how much helping them has helped me. is an online magazine for writers, and editor Jenna Glatzer is an expert on the business of writing. Beautiful, bubbly, and brilliant, Jenna draws talent toward her like a tiki torch draws mosquitos. She is the author of such books as Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen, and the soon to be released The Street-Smart Writer. She is also a frequent contributor to Writers Digest. You can learn more about her at her personal site, (The porn filter at my office blocks her site. I've looked, and looked, and looked, and cannot find the reason for this block. If you do find any naked pictures of Jenna, please email me their exact location, so I can get this straightened out.)

Among the talented folks Jenna has drawn to Absolute Write, are agent Andrew Zack, president of the The Zack Company, Inc., who spends time every day answering writers questions about the mysterious art of finding an agent, and James D. McDonald, the author of dozens of published books in multiple genres, who runs a kind of online writers workshop called Learn Writing with Uncle Jim. Scores of other published writers, agents, editors, and publishers, visit regularly to answer questions and offer suggestions.

What I've found most surprising, though, is the help from my fellow neophytes. Ask any question you can imagine about writing (writing anything, from gargantuan novels to greeting cards) and you will get a dozen answers from people who, like you, are struggling to find their way. What value is there to an answer from an initiate? You'd be surprised.

When I wrote the first draft of my query letter for Transit Gloria, I thought I had a pretty good piece of writing in my hand. When I posted it for review at Absolute Write, I quickly found out just how much better it could be. These are people who have read every possible bit of advice on how to write a good query letter. They've written, rewritten, and rewritten again, their own query letters, and if they've been at Absolute Write for more than a couple of weeks, they have read dozens of other author's queries and critiqued them.

The very first round of critiques improved my letter. While I used several smart guy (and gal) first readers to evaluate my novel, it had never occurred to me to do the same for my letters, even though writing a short summary paragraph about Tranist Gloria was far more difficult for me than writing the 90,000 word novel. I write character driven stories, and it's virtually impossible to have a character driven paragraph (don't send me your examples, please).

My letter didn't really get good, though, until I started critiquing other people's letters. When I saw what worked for them, and what didn't, my mind flashed back to my own letter and I recognized my own weaknesses and strengths. I've watched other writers on the site go through the same process, and watched their letters improve dramatically over very short periods of time. It is truly amazing, and perhaps the most gratifying part of the process is the sense of accomplishment when the folks you've helped, find success. Now I feel the urge to share my own success with them, not to brag, but to thank them, and to let them know that I know they are largely responsible for the good things that are happening to me.

I told you in my last post about Famous Writer referring me to Famous Agent. Here's an update: I posted my query to Famous Agent on Absolute Write, and got some great feedback before I sent it. I cc'd Famous Writer, and she replied,

"Mark, this is the best query letter I've ever read. I'll email Famous Agent today, myself. My land, boy, you know how to write a query letter!"

Two days later, I got a reply from the agent. She said I had piqued her interest, and requested my first three chapters. Piqued is one of my favorite words. The only word I'd rather have her use, is zeitgeist. If she ever uses the word zeitgeist, I'm gonna put a down payment on a Ferrari.

None of this would have happened with the first query letter I wrote. So, to all the folks at AbsoluteWrite: Thank you. WE did well.

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, October 08, 2005

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