Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Agents abroad

In my last post Chris asked:

"Is it worthwhile for a Canadian would-be author to submit to an American agent? There looks to be all of thirty agents in Canada (I could be wrong) and no one's ms will fit everybody's criteria. It seems like the States would improve your odds, if nothing else, but I really don't know what I'm talking about here."

The answer is yes.

Done and done. Next?

Let me expand on this. As many of you know, I am a Canadian author with a British agent. Several of my other author friends are Canadians with American agents. In this world of the interweb it's pretty easy to have such long distance relationships.

But here's the catch. You have to have written something marketable in the agent's home territory. Anyone who has read my books will know that I have an obsession with the British Isles that verges on the silly. I am quite openly an Anglophile, heck I lived in England for three years. When Scholastic UK bought my book and I met with them for the first time they were shocked to discover I was Canadian because, as they said, my book "was quintessentially British".

Canada has a very unique voice. It might be one of the few English speaking countries out there that holds literary fiction on the same plateau as other such countries hold up general popular fiction. We are awesome at the literary stuff. We are not as awesome as supporting the other stuff. And even less so when writing is set anywhere other than Canada. This comes from the simple fact that our country is very small. We have a very real need to maintain our identity through our culture (which is understandable), a culture that many outsiders see as interchangeable with the USA. I have a friend who published with a Canadian publisher. Her book was actually set in NYC. Awesome, right? Well her next book was also to be set there and the publisher asked her if maybe she could make the location Canadian instead. That's sort of the norm up here.

Thus you will find many Canadian authors looking south of the border for representation. Especially authors of genre fiction. And there's nothing wrong with that. But make sure what you are writing would appeal to an American audience. If what you're trying to sell to the States is a literary novel about a small Northern Ontario community, then that's going to be a tough sell and you might be wise sticking with agents here, or even going directly to publishers. If however you are selling an urban fantasy about two werewolves who fall in love in Chicago, you're probably better off to go South.

As ever always do your research. Let me link you to two articles I've written previously for this blog to help you with that.

So You Want To Get Published - Getting An Agent

General Advice with more links

So yeah, hope that answers the question! I wouldn't count out Canadian agents by any stretch of the imagination, but yes, if you feel so inclined, there's nothing wrong with looking abroad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Some more links . . .

Sigh, I'm really sorry guys. I've been overwhelmed with my writing projects lately and every time I think I'm in a lull ready to wax philosophical to all you guys, something else crops up.

But I do feel guilty that already a week has gone by without word from yours truly. So I thought today, because it takes little time for me to do, I'd do one of those link salads things. Basically link you to a couple of blog entries I've read recently about the writing industry that I just thought you might be interested in.

First today there were two blog entries by two different agents detailing how much they love their jobs. It might seem like a strange subject to write about, one would hope they loved their jobs, but seeing as lately there have been a lot of negative blogs out about the relationship between agents and writers, I thought some positivity was in order:

Janet Reid: Publishing may not be perfect but . . .

Jessica Faust: An Agent's Passion

Meanwhile agent Kristin Nelson is in the UK for the London Book Fair (which takes place at Earls Court which was so close to where I used to live, le sigh) and has been reporting about it here.

Next I was directed to this interesting article from 2008 about appearance (specifically female appearance) and being an author. Considering my post a few weeks ago about gender and publishing, I thought it would be interesting for you guys to check out:

Writer's Digest: Does This Book Jacket Make Me Look Fat?

Another topic I often like to discuss is trends. Often I talk about how it's impossible to gauge what the next trend will be, and jumping on bandwagons is silly because what is published today was bought two years ago. But there is also the flipside, the worry that one shouldn't write a certain book because the topic has been so trendy lately (a current example might be Vampires). The ever amazing Nathan Bransford has a great post up today about the fact that there are few original concepts out there, and writing has more to do with execution than idea. It's good reading:

Nathan Bransford: On Concepts

And lastly, and ridiculously, most of you know I am also a correspondent for a website called HardcoreNerdity. Well my latest task has been writing the "Manly Monday" article (I know I know. We also have a "Foxy Friday"), where I get to basically objectify some actor in some genre role and say why he is so awesome. This week seems especially appropriate to my writing blog as I chose Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook. You can check out the article (complete with pics) here. You can also then click through to some previous entries that include Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and The Men of Middle Earth.

Very silly, true. But fun!

That's all for today, hope this post will do for now. Uber apologies again for my poor posting of late!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Winter Coat

A story about my winter coat.

So it's mid April here in Toronto and I'm still wearing my winter coat. This isn't all that unusual for the time of year, but you do get tired of it. Slowly the temperature is rising, and hopefully by the end of the month I will have officially switched to my leather jacket.

The switch is important to me because it means the weather will be warmer. It will also mean that I will have fewer embarrassing moments which I am afraid I must blame entirely on my winter coat. Specifically its hood.

My ears are very sensitive (ah what a delicate soul I am), even in above freezing temperatures they can get so cold so as to give me ear aches. So I wear the hood of my coat up often. I prefer the hood because not only does it block the cold from blowing in at many different angles, it keeps my hair from getting messy unlike a hat.

But. It is also the source of great humiliation for me. You see, I have no peripheral vision in the hood. I have to be extra vigilant when crossing the street etc. But when walking along a sidewalk where it doesn't matter what's to my sides as much, I tend to forget I can't see around me.

And see here's the issue.

I like to sing. A lot. It makes me happy. And I've been taking singing lessons for years and I am very excited how much my ability has improved. When I think no one's looking I go all musical theatre on the world, and will totally belt any and every showtune loudly in public.

Problem is, with this hood of mine, I don't always realise that I'm not as alone as I think I am. Several times this week I have been singing, again, loudly, only to discover that following almost directly beside me is another individual most clearly within earshot. This being Toronto, as well as being a big city in Canada, they never say anything. People in Toronto are used to strange people talking to themselves etc, and being Canadian are also too polite to stare.

Let me reiterate. I sing loudly. I mean, as if I was on stage. There's no way to pretend I wasn't just singing, or that I am cutely singing to myself. Oddly though, I stop right away and try to anyway, but I always feel ridiculous.

I feel the heat rush to my face, I quickly walk away from that person, and get mad at myself for getting caught.

It's really quite embarrassing.

And then two seconds later, I start singing again.

There's not much point to this story. Nothing that is really analogous to writing or acting. I suppose if I was to make it meaningful I could say something about making yourself vulnerable doing something you love, being true to yourself. Even though at times you may feel really dumb, or people may judge you, it's more important to sing loudly in the street than to walk quietly, head lowered, afraid to be yourself. Maybe I'll even take this lesson myself and apply it when I switch up jackets, and sing proudly still as if I was wearing my hood.

Actually, that's pretty good. But it wasn't the reason for telling the story.

I just wanted to tell the story.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Gender in the Publishing World

(there will be many generalisations in today's post, I realise there are exceptions to every rule, and that people are individuals first, categories second . . . but today I am afraid I will be indulging in generalities. My apologies.)

Today I wanted to ask a question that's been on my mind a lot lately:

how big a role do you think gender plays in the world of books?

This is a broad question and meant to be. There are so many different levels on which one can discuss this topic. And it of course depends on your role in this world, there is a different perspective from each area: publisher, agent, author, reader . . .

For example, as an author, I often wonder whether men (or I suppose boys in my case with my audience) are put off reading a book with a female author's name obviously at the bottom. I know lots of boys read JK Rowling, but there was a reason her publisher suggested she use her initials only. Not only did they hope to widen her potential market, they also felt that because her main character was a boy, it was the best way not to alienate that audience.

I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of boys who read Alex and really enjoy it. We are told often that boys will not read a book with a female protagonist, and I actually had a boy the other day look at me in shock when I mentioned Alex was a girl. This boy had already read the book, in which I say often that Alex is a girl, and yet I suppose because it isn't about the fact that she is a girl, that she isn't particularly "girly", whatever that is, he actually forgot he was reading about the opposite gender and saw her more as an "everyman" (everywoman?) kind of character. Something, I must be honest, that was indeed one of my goals with the book, so I am immensely pleased. But at the same time, does this mean that if I write a "girly" protagonist I will lose the boys who so enjoyed my other books simply on that fact alone?

As a reader . . . I have noticed that a novel written by a woman that centres around romance (though isn't necessarily a Romance Novel), tends to be shuffled aside as "chick lit", while similar novels by men are categorised as general fiction, and tend to be treated with a bit more respect. I have also noticed that men keen on writing Romance Novels feel a need to change their names to appeal to that audience as well. I have also heard tell of men being frustrated with an industry and audience that is predominantly female, and that the male audience/POV isn't always taken into consideration.

This disparity between the genders seems to exist in every genre. Agent Kristin Nelson wrote in her blog post entitled Dad Wisdom & Publishing:

"From my personal experience (and I really can only speak from that perspective), I truly believe that for literary fiction, it’s much easier to sell boy writers than gals. I know. Who can possibly make such a general statement but I have to say that I’ve encountered several worthy manuscripts that I’m rather convinced that if the writer had been male, the novel would have sold."

She also wrote another very interesting blog entry about the genders entitled PW Survey Says about the differences between genders within the publishing industry itself (an industry, one will note, that is heavily female).

And I find it all so distinctly odd. I do think that there are certain types of fiction in which, for whatever reason, certain genders prefer to write, but if someone from the opposite gender has done a decent job of it in their "wrong" genre, why shouldn't they be allowed the same chances and same level of respect for it? And why is it that two people can write a very similar story, and be shuffled off into totally different categories?

On a personal level I have met some interesting reactions with being a woman who is also funny. Many people (usually men - again generalisation) simply refuse to believe at first that I am as funny as I wind up being in my writing. Even in person I have had men look at me in total shock and say, "Actually you're quite funny." My books get that same response, and I must confess there are times I wonder what sort of reaction they would have got if the name on the cover had been Adrian, and not Adrienne. I wonder if by reading a book with a female name, readers (another sweeping generalisation) expect a certain sincere offering, and when a woman makes an ironic/satirical or cynical joke, the reader gets confused and sees it as not meant to be funny in the first place.

I have no proof to back that last statement up, it truly is just a question lingering in my mind that I'm not sure will ever be answered. But I do think there is an inherit prejudice (either in favour or against) an author of the "wrong" gender in a certain category. Someone will see the name, not even process it consciously, but somehow it will still affect how they read the work.

In fact I would suggest you try this little game at home, where you pick up a book by a female author say, and open it up and pretend it was written by a man and see if that changes your perspective on it (and vice versa)? I have, and I have to admit that there are times where it really changes the way in which I read the book. But maybe that says more about me, than anything else.

So what do you guys think? Am I totally off my rocker? Does gender matter in writing? In the publishing world? Is there a bias for one over the other in certain genres? And really anything else you feel like contributing to the discussion!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ad Astra 2009

Yes my third Ad Astra convention was this weekend, and I have to say that it was by far the most exhausting one I've been to. But this of course had something to do with the fact that I was on many more panels this time round, and was doing a co-signing/reading with the lovely Lesley Livingston (author of Wondrous Strange). I've also made some amazing friends over the years at the con, so there were also their events to attend as well. In all, it was an amazing event, but I'm not sure I've quite recovered yet!

So . . . the story!

Lesley and I arrived around 9am on the Saturday to put up some posters about our reading. We'd changed the time so as not to conflict with the awesome and extremely prolific Ms. Julie Czerneda, so we needed to inform the general populace of this. We had decided to call our event, "Dark Power and Mouthy Cleverness: together at last!" in honour of our awesome shared Globe and Mail review.

We were both a wee bit tired that morning. It did not bode well for the rest of the weekend.

Then we had to hustle to our first event which was a panel on getting into writing YA, which we shared with Michelle Rowan and Marc Mackay. We were certain no one would show up, it being first thing in the morning, but as we went on, by the end of the hour, we had a full house. 'Twas awesome.

Next was Lesley on a panel about putting combat in books. Lesley was fantastic and more than held her own despite the fact that she was slightly hidden behind a post.

We then went to listen to Julie Czerneda read from her latest book, in a very crowded room, and then we were off to support the amazing Douglas Smith, who has had a collection of short stories published: Impossibilia. This really impresses me because in the publishing industry I'd say short story anthologies, along with poetry and picture books, are one of the hardest things to get commercially published. So it was very cool. Got to buy a book and have it autographed of course.

Then Lesley and I parted ways as I was to help Julie Czerneda teach a writing workshop to teens. Really I'm more like her assistant and comic relief, Julie is so awesome at leading these workshops, but we had a great time with the teens, and they seriously came up with some truly original ideas. Really fantastic ideas. Pretty marketable ideas too.

Then, finally, I got a bit of a break. By now it was 3:30pm and I hadn't really had anything to eat. Of course I actually didn't get a chance to eat anything at that moment either as Lesley and I had to set up for our reading, but I did snag a few of the mini cupcakes I brought along for the event. Heck they were my cupcakes and I can eat them if I want to.

The reading was well attended, despite the change in time and location. We hadn't really prepared what we would say or how we would start it, so we kind of just looked at each other, and then Lesley read first. She did a great job, getting tons of laughs, and then I read, doing a great job and getting tons of laughs. We really are fabulous, what can I say?

Then we had a draw for a cover plate of her book, and the audio book of Alex. And then we signed books (which had been provided courtesy of the lovely Chris Szego at Bakka Phoenix Books).

Finally we were done for the day. At least, professionally. It was 6pm and we stuck around until midnight, hanging out in the bar with the likes of Martin Springett, S.K.S. Perry, JM Frey, Steph Lalonde, Joe O'Brien, Caitlin Sweet, Jonathan Llyr, Gabrielle Harbowy and Russell Winkelaar (and many more, but there was so much coming and going it was hard to keep track, apologies for leaving anyone out, trust me I adore you all!). I had a ridiculously long and wonderful conversation about how awesome Pixar is with Karin Lowachee and Derek Molata (which basically consisted of us saying, "What about Finding Nemo!" "Oh yeah that one is awesome! You know what part I like best. . . ." and then "What about The Incredibles!" "Oh yeah that one is awesome! You know what part I like best . . ." etc etc).

Then Lesley and I got rides home from the lovely Mr. Perry, and I fell asleep the second my head touched the pillow.


I didn't need to be at the hotel until 11am the next day, and my dad was kind enough to give me a ride again. I met Lesley at the coffee stand. She was very frustrated that she had only managed to fill her cup half way before the pot had run out of coffee. But we had no time to wait for a fresh one as we had to go to the launch of Julie Czerneda's latest anthology Ages of Wonder, for which the amazing Caitlin Sweet had written a story. All the authors came dressed up in a manner that reflected what they had written. Caitlin was tiny bit late curling her hair, but she looked fab so it was worth it.

They drew for prizes.

I did not win.

Then I headed over to be on a panel about adding humour into serious works along with Steven Kerzner (for those Canadians out there, Mr. Kerzner's alter ego is Ed the Sock), D.K. Savage, and Ed Greenwood. It turned out that most of us on the panel really tend to add humour into humourous works, but I still think we managed to keep on topic. In fact it was a heck of a lot of fun, and fortunately also pretty hilarious. There's also always that added pressure of talking about humour that people expect you to be funny talking about it. Not sure why. I think it could be pretty entertaining to have a very serious, dry conversation about humour. It also doesn't help that I'm still a bit uncomfortable in my role as humourist (despite the fact that it seems to be something I'm quite good at). For a blog entry about my said discomfort, please click here.

I would also like to add that despite his alter ego Ed the Sock being a rather crass individual, Steve Kerzner himself is just lovely.

Just so you know.

Then I had to fly off to see Mr. Jonathan Llyr in action. As you may know, I work as a correspondent for his website,, as well as am a member of his theatre company, Tempest Theatre. He's a pretty big name in the geekish parts of Canada having worked for the Space channel for around a decade and interviewed just about every SF/F celebrity out there. So of course they asked him if he'd be interested in being on a panel about the upcoming Star Trek movie.

Thing is, he'd actually seen around 20 minutes of the film in a special screening, so while the rest of the panel were speculating, John actually had the serious knowledge. The panel for that reason wound up really interesting, because it wasn't just all speculation, but fact as well. And it was fun. And now I REALLY can't wait to see the movie.

(btw I should add that John was VERY skeptical about this film, kind of almost against it, and then he saw those 20 minutes and totally did a 180, so I'm pretty confident it will be pretty good)

Then Lesley and I dashed off to join Violette Malan (MOD), Fiona Patton and the amazing Tamora Pierce (who is so funny and deadpan - love it) on a panel about YA reading for Grownups. I think this panel was my favourite. It was all about what makes YA (and MG) so worth reading as an adult, what makes YA/MG unique. It was just really inspiring, talking about the hope the genre offers. How we are all so sick of everything in adult literature being so ironic, world weary and cynical. I pointed out that in Timothy, the main character IS world weary and cynical, but the difference is that attitude is meant to be perceived as foolish, not heroic. Truly we just missed the grand heroic stories from our youth. Tamora Pierce pointed out that she felt MG was where the true innovation was these days, and that made me feel happy as sometimes even in talking with YA authors you can feel a bit like a lesser author writing MG.

In all it was just fabulous, we laughed a lot, we also just got so excited about the genre. Because, really, there is so much there to be excited about.

And then we were done. And then we were exhausted. And then John, Lesley, Russell and I went to the Keg for linner (lunch/dinner). And then I went home, watched the Star Trek Family Guy (Rob Lowe? What the heck?). And then I went to bed.

I begin to drift off. Let my mind wander. Yay, think I, I get to sleep in . . . I get to . . . Holy ****! I sit blot upright, "I have an audition first thing in the morning!" Set alarm early to allow myself time to go over my monologues in the morning. Lie back down.

And finally . . . .

Drift off to sleep.

And now. . . some pictures!! Yay . . .

Getting into writing YA panel, left to right: Me, Lesley, Michelle Rowan and Marc Mackay.

Lesley on the fight panel. Slightly hidden behind the speaker stand.

Douglas Smith reading from his anthology.

Me and Lesley at our reading: "You go first" "No you go first. . ."

Me reading from Timothy.

Me finding myself utterly hilarious.

Me and Lesley FINALLY done for the day and able to relax.

Things get a little silly.

Then, for some reason, sophisticated.
(with that hat and the wine, it's hard for Russell not to appear so . . .)

Day 2 at the Ages of Wonder launch. The trio together again, Lesley, Caitlin (all greeked up) and me. Aren't we just fab?

The adding humour into serious works panel. Left to right: DK Savage, Steven Kerzner, me, Ed Greenwood.

We found ourselves terribly amusing.

John at the Star Trek film panel. Sitting next to moderator, David Clink.

John noticing me taking his picture. He is not amused. Odd.

Tamora Pierce, Violet Malan and Fiona Patton: the left hand side of the YA reading for Grownups panel.

Me and Lesley: the right hand side of same panel.

And now we rumble.


Not really.

Not at all.

But Lesley and I get to be the Sharks. Is all I'm saying . . .