Monday, February 27, 2006

Ask a stupid question...

Main Entry: pomp·ous
Function: adjective
1: having or exhibiting self-importance {a pompous official}

Main Entry: ar·ro·gant
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin arrogant-, arrogans, present participle of arrogare
1 : exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one's own worth or importance in an overbearing manner {an arrogant politician}
see: ASS

Main Entry: ass
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English assa, probably from Old Irish asan, from Latin asinus
1 : often vulgar : a stupid, obstinate person -- often compounded with one or more preceding adjectives {a pompous, arrogant ass}

Man, I hate to sound like one of those officious assholes whose greatest writing is contained in a thousand different blog entries and forum posts which combined could best be titled, The Writer's Rules for Writing Right. Ack. Gag.

I just can't help myself sometimes. When I give advice to other writers, I try to preface my advice with the caveat that what I'm suggesting works for me - it might also work for you, but maybe not. I think I've tossed out a couple of gems. Once, I gave this advice to a writer who was struggling with condensing her story down to just two pages:

Before you write a synopsis of your story, write one of your favorite Shakespeare piece; Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Hamlet....After you look at the best writing on earth distilled onto two pages, doing the same to your own story is a lot less traumatic.

Like I said, it works for me. It isn't a rule, it isn't cast in stone, and there are a thousand other ways to do it. I like it, I think it is a good answer. More importantly, I liked the question that lead me to that answer. How to shrink a novel into a one, two, or five page synopsis is a problem every writer has to face. How to write an effective query letter is another good question, and there are even more good answers to it than to the synopsis question.

Okay, you're thinking, that seems pretty reasonable. So, why is he warning us that he's a pompous, arrogant ass?

Let me tell you why, pilgrim. I think most of the questions writers ask aren't good questions. I think they're stupid questions, and before you say it, let me respond: Of course there are stupid questions. Anyone who truly believes there are no stupid questions suffers from some sort of deficiency that doesn't allow them to recognize stupidity - not even their own. Is that pompous enough for you?

Let me give you an example:

Q: Should writers use profanity?

A: Do people use profanity?

Writers owe it to their readers to tell the truth. If your characters are a bunch of men on a battlefield, you better believe they are going to be using words that would make your grandma blush, unless your grandma grew up on a tobacco farm, and can cuss like a sailor pissing out the clap, in which case, any character based on dear old granny probably ought naught sound like the church lady when she speaks. On the other hand, if your characters are a bunch of church ladies, you probably don't want one of them telling the preacher to kiss her lily-white asparagus spears. Get it? I know most of you do. If you're a writer, you better get it.

Now that I've written my answer, I wonder if I misunderstood the question. Did he mean, should we use profanity in our writing, or did he mean, should we use profanity when we speak? Damn. I wish I know what the hell he meant.

I'm going to stop there today. What do you think, am I way off base here? Have you spotted any stupid questions lately? Please don't refer me to Miss Snark. That's cheating. In the army we would have called that a target rich environment, as in: "Custer surveyed the battlefield, and when he saw he was surrounded by thousands of Sioux warriors, he reassured his aide-de-camp by saying that they were deep in a target rich environment."

That Custer was one pompous, arrogant, ass.

Mark Pettus,
Monday, February 27, 2006

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Me, me, me, me, meme.

Memes remind me of plot generating software - the results are almost always better when you do the work yourself. Like the last meme I participated in, this one allows the blogger (me) to share a little bit of personal history. I probably should do a full bio, but when Spicy Cauldron tagged me with The Four meme I thought, what the heck?

Four Jobs I've Had:
Rendering plant laborer (hip-waders, road kill, maggots)
Head hunter (recruiting doctors)
Blacksmith (not a farrier, a blacksmith)
Journalist (but you knew that, right?)

Four Movies I (could) Watch Over and Over:
(this is similar to the Sevens meme I did a few months ago)
A Christmas Story (You'll shoot your eye out.)
Babe (That'll do pig. That'll do.)
The Princess Bride (My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.)
Henry V (We few, we happy few, we band of brothers)

Four Places I've Lived:
The Land of Lincoln
One of the towns whose name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe.
The Land Of Enchantment
Texas, The Republic of

Four TV Shows I Love(d): (All of them are off the air, or soon will be. I'm sure there are great shows on now, but I just don't have time to watch enough to fall in love)
Star Trek, Star Trek -The Next Generation, Star Trek - Deep Space Nine, Star Trek -Voyager, Enterprise (I count them as one)
Magnum P.I. (genius writing, but you had to be a fan to know it)
West Wing
The Pretender

Four Favorite Dishes
Tacos from a taqueria called Chano's, with jalapenos and carrots as a side dish.
Steak with blue cheese sauce (my own recipe)
Chicken diablo
My mother's enchiladas (you can feel your arteries harden - at the table)

Four Sites I Visit Daily (not counting blogs)
Publishers Marketplace
Agent Query
About a hundred sites related to my work as a reporter.
My own.

Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now:
Eating (grilled chicken smothered in mushrooms, onions, garlic, and provolone is waiting, and the smell is killing me)
Thunder Bay
On stage, accepting the Pulitzer...

Who wants to play tag? Nobody? In that case, why don't the bloody lot of you just go tag yourselves.

Mark Pettus,
Sunday, February 12, 2006

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's like a cross between the Prince of Tides and Bonanza?

J.A. Konrath hit on something yesterday that tickled my brain. In a post titled, Writers, Start Your Pitch, he asked:

Which is more effective:

This is a book about a guy named Bill who goes on a journey of self-discovery while battling an evil force that's invaded his home town.

Did you like the Matrix? It's like the Matrix written by Stephen King, with giant flesh eating monsters and an ending that you'll NEVER see coming.

I told you a couple of days ago that I would soon be pitching agents again (the two agents who were reading partials have had three months of semi-exclusive reading time, which neither requested). I sent out several queries, and have already received two more requests for partials, and four personalized rejections. I'm pretty happy with those numbers. My pitch to agents is pretty simple. If there is some really good reason why I think they should be my agent, I lead with that...

Dear Ms. Agent,

I saw the seven figure deal you landed for I. M. Arichwriter, and knew you were the agent for me.

I follow that with my hook:

Reno Sanders was rich, good looking, and charming, and when he asked Peggy Mallory to wear his 4-H pin, she wanted to tell the whole world. First, she had to tell her husband and three sons. This is their story.

After the hook is a longer paragpraph with some plot details. To keep with the fishing analogy, I call this feeding them line. Then I reel 'em in with my summary paragraph:

Transit Gloria (Latin - Passing Glory) is a character driven drama, and readers have to ask not just who, but why. The answers are heartbreaking. Reno Sanders is a charming antagonist, and watching his descent is as hard for the reader as it is for the characters. Sex and sexuality are important parts of its themes, but this is not gay fiction, or erotica. At its heart, this is a story about growing up and learning that hate and love are two sides of the same coin, and that revenge isn't always sweet.

My final paragraph talks about what a stud-monkey I am, and begs for the opportunity to send the agent a box containing the full manuscript and some home-made cookies.

Now I'm wondering if I couldn't save a lot of ink by just saying...

Did you like Brokeback Mountain? Transit Gloria is like Brokeback Mountain written by Pat Conroy. It has sex, murder, cowboys, and a huge emotional trainwreck that you see coming a mile away and are powerless to stop.

What do you think? Have you got your pitch ready?

Mark Pettus,
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Why do you write?

If you're like me, there are several answers to that question. I write as a form of exorcism, erasing demons from my soul as I add them to the page. I write to exercise my mind, and because I love the language. I write because it is my art. I write to express my thoughts. I write because I must.

Mostly, I write to be read.

There are as many reasons to be journalist as there are to be a writer, but my reason is: to write. It is the writing I love, more than the adventure, more than the doors journalism opens, more than the insider's view of politics and big business. I love to write, and the paper pays me to write, every day. Even better, I get read. I love to be read. It's a big part of why I blog. When you comment, I know someone is reading, and I love to be read.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. I just got off the phone with Stetson Kennedy, the famed author and champion of social justice. He called to tell me that he had read, and enjoyed, both my article about An Evening With Stetson Kennedy, and my Opinion piece about his treatment at the hands of the authors of Freakonomics.

"Mark, I enjoyed your writing. It was more than just good writing, it was good thinking." Those were his exact words. He continued, "I'm going to send copies to all the members on the board of my foundation."

Now, I'm admittedly a little star-struck by Stetson Kennedy. He was the kind of journalist I only dream of being, a man of remarkable courage who stood up for what was right, and risked his life to expose evil. Knowing he read my writing - and liked it - is very gratifying.

What makes it even more gratifying is the list of names I have in front of me - the people sitting on the advisory board of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation.

Julian Bond
Daniel Botkin
Peggy A. Bulger, PhD
Hodding Carter, III, Esq
Morris S. Dees, Jr., Esq
William R. Ferris, PhD
Ben Goldhirsch
Arlo Gurthrie
Stephen F. Hanlon
David Isay
Katherine Burton Jones
Sir Walter Lindal
Anna Lomax
John Marshall
Studs Terkel
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Dr. Cornel West
Ma Vynee Betsch ("The Beach Lady" died in October)

They are going to read my words. Mine.

I'm going to be hard to live with for the next few days.

Mark Pettus,
Monday, February 06, 2006

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Random thoughts on ransom notes

Letter I
Ha\EECase 705.4

Spell with flickr
If I had nothing else to do, I would play all day.

Mark Pettus,
Sunday, February 05, 2006

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About the book, and the new look.

What do you think of my new custom template?

I wanted something professional, and flexible. In the next few weeks I'll be filling out the rest of my site (,, and, I wanted a unified look, and I didn't want to use Blogger's template. I knew the look I wanted, but it's been three years since I designed a website (three years on the web is a very long time), so I searched until I found a designer that had the basic look - then I modified her design to match my vision. Each page of the site will be similar, with the navigation pane possibly shifting sides on a few pages, and with a different image on each page. See my new home page - here.

I'm taking Transit Gloria on the road again (figuratively). I've given the two agents who are reading as much time as I feel I can afford, and now I'm going to increase my exposure a bit by querying a new batch of agents. If your agent represents "character driven" stories (literary with commercial appeal), and you think I just might have a smidge of talent, please feel free to recommend me. I plan to privately ask a couple of you for recomendations because I like what your agents have to say on their websites, but, you know your agents better than I. If you think they'd like me, let me AND your agent know. I promise not to pick my nose, spit on the carpet, or talk bad about Oprah in their presence - at least not until after they sell my book.

p.s. While I worked on the site today, I received emails notifying me of comments from Shesawriter and SpicyCauldron. I replied, but all three comments have disappeared. I'm going to add your comments to mine and repost them at the end of my last post. Confused? Me too.

Mark Pettus,
Sunday, February 05, 2006

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tarr'd and feathered

One good link deserves another, don't you think? I do, and so I'm going to link you to a blog titled: My Irrationalities. Tanya (Shesawriter) has a beautiful blog - visually and intellectually stimulating - and she covers a broad range of topics.

One of her posts today was titled Industry News, where Tonya updated us on the latest from the Publishers Lunch. She started by giving us all the special decoder ring needed to understand the rest of the top secret news:

nice deal" $1 - $49,000"
very nice deal" $50,000 - $99,000"
good deal" $100,000 - $250,000"
significant deal" $251,000 - $499,000"
major deal" $500,000 and up

About halfway down the list of deals, was this:

Hope Tarr's MR. RIGHT IS... DEAD, in which a beautiful police detective is granted her New Year's Eve wish to turn back the clock one week to track down a killer and save the life of her dream man, to Brenda Chin at Harlequin Blaze, in a nice deal, for two books (world).

I met Hope Tarr last fall, and interviewed her for an article on a writers conference held near where I live. She was gracious, extremely intelligent (she's actually Dr. Hope Tarr, Ph.D.), and beautiful - we call that a hat-trick, sports fans.

Now, I'm not a big romance fan, but there was no way I was going to miss a chance to talk to Hope Tarr. On the desk in front of me is her book, Tempting, which she autographed to me. On the back cover are a couple of blurbs. May McGoldrick wrote, "Stunning... enchanting." She could just as easily have been talking about the author as the book. On the front cover is a portrait of a woman, seated, facing away from the artist. Her shoulders are bare above a laced corset. In all honesty, I think Hope Tarr may have modeled for her own book cover. She is that pretty.

Beauty, brains, talent, and now a two book deal. Women like that are not always the nicest people. Hope is, and I'm glad to see her finding the success she deserves. Congratulations Hope. Continued Success.

Stripping off his cravat, he did his level best to ignore Christine's silk stockings and - good God - garters dangling from the chair's back. He'd just added his waistcoat to the mounting pile when a sudden prickle of awareness shot through him. He looked up to find Christine watching him, gaze riveted to the triangle of flesh revealed by his open shirt collar. Despite the chilly, rain-scented air wafting in from the half-open window, he felt his flesh heat. And his pulse quicken.
- from Hope Tarr's Tempting

Mark Pettus,
Thursday, February 02, 2006

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