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12 Aug 20:58

#WDC16 Effective Query Letters handout

by Janet Reid

Effective Query Letters

1  A query letter is the business letter you send to an agent
The purpose is two-fold
            1a Entice the agent to read your pages/request the full manuscript
            1b Demonstrate you are not an asshat.**

What this means:
            1c Don't speak of yourself in third person
            NO: Harry Potter has had a lot of books written about him. Now, he's written a memoir."

            YES: I've published three novels and attended your class on query letters at #WDC16

            1d: Don't state the obvious
            NO: I'm writing today to introduce you to my novel
            NO: I'm writing to ask you to review my novel

            1e: Don't try to be witty
            NO: Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya and I've got a novel you're going to die for.
            NO: Your website says you are looking for homoerotic haiku. Boy have a I got a book for                         you.

            YES: Jack Reacher found himself in hot water once again.

Take away: Starting with the name of your protagonist and the problem s/he faces is a good start to an effective query.

**an example of author asshat: "I'd like for you to sell me on why I should retain your services as a literary agent."

2  A query letter requires "show don't tell" exactly like your novel
            Example: "My novel is funny" is less effective than actually being funny on the page.

NO:  THE SONG OF THE KALE LEAF is beautifully written, with a strong distinct voice, and characters that come alive on the page. It explores themes of being green in a colorless world.

(The reason you think this is the right way to go is you often hear "write like a dust jacket" but that's not good advice.)

YES: Emily St. John Mandel has a ready smile and eyes that miss nothing.  You might mistake her for sweet, until you read her books.

NO: KILLING FLOOR explores themes of alienation, democracy and familial bonds.

YES: Jack Reacher was enjoying his seventeenth cup of diner coffee when the SWAT team in Margrave, Georgia rolled up to arrest his ass.

Take away: The less abstract your query the better.
3  A query letter MUST tell an agent what the book is about 

            3a  Who is the main character?
            3b  What does he want?
            3c  What is keeping him from getting what he wants?
            3d  What must he sacrifice to get what she wants?

            3a Jack Reacher
            3b wants to see the grave of a old, almost forgotten blues musician
            3c when he is suddenly, inexplicably arrested for a murder he could not have committed.
            3d When the guy behind the false arrest is also killed, Reacher can stay in town, at great                         peril to himself, to solve the case or he can leave shake the dust of this crazy town off his             sneakers and get on with his wandering.

How to convey what the book is about:

            3e The main character must decide whether to: do THIS or do THAT

            3f If s/he decides to do (this), the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3g If s/he decides NOT to do this:  the consequences/outcome/peril s/he faces are:

            3e Katniss Everdeen must decide whether to take her younger sister's place when she is             called to be their district's entry in the Hunger Games.

            3f If she goes in her sister's place, her family will suffer because Katniss' hunting skills             are what keeps them from starving now;

            3g If she decides not to go, her sister will surely die in the Games.

Notice: no backstory. Your reader will jump right in to the story with you.

This is not intended to show the exact wording you use in a query, but to will help you distill your plot to the essentials. You need the essentials of Act One, not a rundown of the entire plot.

Take away: A query is not a synopsis[i].

4. If you're having trouble getting a query to work within these parameters:

            A. These are guidelines, not a template. Change up. Start with the antagonist.

            B. Break all the rules but do it in a way that is utterly compelling:


One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists.

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage.

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah.

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request. (PREMEDITATED by Josin McQuein)

 C. Write a LOT of words, then pare down.

D. Write a query for a novel you love that you didn't write (sometimes it's easier to practice on other books)

E. Write one sentence paragraphs with WHO WHAT WHY THEN

            WHO: Jack Reacher
            WHAT: got arrested
            WHY: cause they needed a fall guy for a murder
            THEN: there was a second murder (and he couldn't have done that one either)

In each of these cases, this isn't what your query will say, but it will help you get the right elements on the page.

Take away: Authors often ask me "is it ok to (do X).  The only answer to that question is "Does it work?" Does it entice the reader/agent to ask for pages.  If it does, do it. If it doesn't don't. That includes ALL the "how to" in this workshop.

Beware: you need to know the rules, so you know when you're breaking them.

Remember: the vast swaths of silence from "no response means no" is often NOT a comment on your query.

If it just isn't working: Writing a query letter can help you find major problems in your book.

5  A query letter should include
            word count 
            title (and just pick one, no need to have "working title" mentioned)
            any publishing credits you have [Don't have pub credits? Don't worry, and don't reach]            

(the novel has to be finished.  You don't have to say it is but just know it)

6 A query letter must avoid several instant-rejection phrases such as
            fiction novel
            sure fire best seller
            including ideas or art for the cover
            film potential
            "dear agent"/"dear sir or madam"

7  Things to avoid in query letters

            7A: Wrong tone
                        Don't beg  "please read my query"
                        Don't flatter  "I know you're very busy"
                        Don't demean yourself  "I'm just an unpublished writer with big dreams"

            7B: Wrong comps
                        Don't quote rejection letters  "Jenny Bent loved this but she was too busy"
                        Don't quote critique groups, friends, paid editors or conference contacts

            7C: Wrong style
                        Don't ask rhetorical questions "What if you were stranded on a desert island with                                     an unpublished writer?"

                        Writing in your character's persona "I'm a serial killer. I like to target literary                                     agents."

Take away: there are some rules you really shouldn't break, even for style or verve.

8.  Most common format error:

            Put your contact info at the bottom.[ii]  Standard business letter form is DIFFERENT for            electronic queries.

Take away: "this is the way I was taught" is not a reason to do it wrong. Correct style has changed to accommodate the electronic world. Keep up.

9.  Second most common format error: Big Blocs o'Text

You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.[iii]

This is a good query. I signed the author.  This format makes it very hard to read.

When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.   Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.
Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.  He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.  
Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city?  Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.
I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing. 
Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy.


10. Correct form for an electronic query for FICTION

Subj: QUERY-Title by Author

Dear (Name of Agent)

FIRST: 100 word paragraph answering the question "what is this book about?"
Have a line break every three lines  Big blocks of text are hard to read
(example of a big block o'text on following page)

SECOND: Your writing credits and bio.

THIRD: Genre/word count. Maybe even title if it fits better here.[iv]

FOUR: Any kind words;  how you found me; why you picked me to query.

Closing:  Thank you for your time and consideration

Your name
your email
your telephone
Your website
Your blog
Your twitter name
Your facebook page[v]

Your physical address

You don't need all these social media avenues. 
            List the ones you want agents to see.
            Clean up your web presence!

There should be no live links in a query.[vi]
11. Here's how the previous example should look in EMAIL (notice the lines break more often than every paragraph)[vii]

(1)When failed salesman Johnny Wolfe encounters a dying dog in the street while walking to work one morning, he suspects there’s a sense of the wild returning to the city.  When the dog kills one of Johnny’s rival salesmen, his suspicions are confirmed.  

Wolf is a 78,000 word noir thriller.  Based upon your interest in suspense, and the off-beat humor you exhibit on your blog, I thought you might enjoy reading and representing the novel for publication.

(2)Wolf traces two days in the life of Johnny Wolfe, a man mired in loss – the loss of his childhood pet, the failure of his marriage, and the end of a once prosperous career selling surveillance and security equipment.

 He yearns to get his life back on track, and when he finds a $1.2million sales order on his colleague’s now dead body, he figures this deal could be the answer.
(3)Except what is the product that is being sold?  Why doesn’t it show up in any of the company sales catalogs?  And what does this product have to do with the sudden return of dogs to the city? 

Or are they really dogs, and why is it that the people in Johnny’s life all smell so much like they’re out to get him?  Wolf is a boy and his dog story, except that the boy has grown into a hapless salesman and the dogs are all werewolves.

(4)I am a first time novelist who’s worked in sales for a lifetime.  I am also a dog enthusiast.  I’ve published various pieces in local newspapers and have won an Emmy for video editing.

(5)Thanks for reading these pages of Wolf.   You seem interested in suspense with a unique bent, and that’s what I’m going for in Wolf.  I hope you enjoy. 

12. Extra hints

            Don't offer exclusives

            Don't attach anything unless the agent's specific guidelines say to do so.

            Don't engage your spam filter or auto responder

            Don't be afraid to sound stark[viii]. Most query letters are verbose. Make your point then             stop.

            Avoid sweeping statements. Be as specific as possible with every single word

            Don't cut and paste.  Type a master email and duplicate it.

13. After you hit SEND

            Expect to spend two months writing a good solid query letter.

            Expect to hear no. A lot. Or nothing, even more.

            Have a query tracking system in place so you know who/what/when/where.

14 .What To Do When You Realize You've Messed Up: Start Over and Do Better

A. Making a mistake is better than doing nothing

B. These are the only mistakes you can't recover from;
            1. spamming the agent (multiple queries sent too often)
            2. scaring the agent (too personal, too angry)
            3. telephoning my office
            4. denigrating my clients ("all thrillers today are crap")
            5. Lies ("I have an offer of rep" when you don't)

These are not the mistakes made by a writer who has invested in attending a conference and paying attention to how things work.  Your mistakes will be things like homonyms.

C. There is no black list

D. You can requery when you've revised and improved, but you'll need to wait awhile, and you can only do this once.

E. Errors are better than inaction.

F. I've signed authors who had really bad queries.

Takeaway: Write a novel I can't wait to tell people about and you'll be just fine.

15. Bonus Content: Ten Red Flags in ANY Query

1. The first sentence has more than 25 words.

2. The first sentence has more than two clauses.

3. The author refers to himself/herself by name (rather than "I")

4. The bio section refers to a recent retirement that now allows time to write.

5. The phrase "film potential" is present.

6. The words "beta readers" are present.

7. The words "why this book will be successful" appear in the query

8. The phrase "my name is"** appears

9. Love for the written word is professed.

10. Instructions for pronunciation of any name is included

16.  Bonus Content: What  you need BEFORE you query

                                                Fiction                        Memoir            Non-fiction
permission to query                        NO                        NO                        NO

check with agent on topic            NO                        NO                        NO

query letter                                    YES                        YES                        YES

website*                                     Yes                        Yes                        Yes

dedicated email[ix]                        Yes                        Yes                        Yes

word count                                    Yes                        Yes                        No

finished project                        Yes                        Yes                        No

proposal                                    No                        No                         Yes

platform/established presence No                        No                        Yes

blurbs                                                No                        No                        No

Marketing strategy                        No                        Yes                        Yes

Answer to the question:            No                        Yes                        Yes
"Why I wrote this book"

comparison books                        No                        Yes                        Yes
"how is this book different
from others in this category"

*what counts as a website?

A blog and website can be seen by anyone who wants to reach you

Anything that  can only be seen by "members" does not count.

It's important there be NO barrier between your contact info and the person who wants to reach you

Workshop presenter

Janet Reid is a literary agent at New Leaf Literary & Media in New York City.  She keeps a blog at that answers questions from writers and allows her to rant on things that drive her crazy in publishing and reasons she loves her job and the city.

She also runs [x] a blog that critiques queries sent to the Shark by writers.  To submit a query click on the link "how to submit a query to the shark."  It's all volunteer.

Her Facebook page is Janet Reid, Literary Agent.

Her clients include New York Times bestselling Patrick Lee (The Breach series and RUNNER); Jeff Somers (WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE);  Laird Barron, the multiple award winning author of the upcoming SWIFT TO CHASE; Steve Ulfelder; Cornelia Read;  Dana Haynes; Lee Goodman; Terry Shames; Mike Cooper and Phillip DePoy.

Her list is largely crime novels and thrillers, and narrative non-fiction in history and biography.
She is a member of AAR, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Association of American Historians, the Civil War Roundtable of NYC, the Women's' National Book Association (NYC chapter), Biographers International Organization, and the Authors Guild.

She lives in Brooklyn and is tormenting herself by painting her apartment. Yes, 27 color samples later, it's almost done (that's what I said last year too.)

[i] A query is not a synopsis.
[ii] Put your contact info at the bottom.
[iii] You get big blocks of text when you cut and paste from word docs.
[iv] Put the housekeeping info after the story info
[v] You don't need ALL these social media touch points
[vi] No live links in a query
[vii] the lines break more often than every paragraph
[viii] Don't be afraid to sound stark
[ix] Email just for your author/writer work. It should be your name.
[x]QueryShark.blogspot com has 260+ entries designed to help you revise your query to be more effective
07 Jun 17:16

While discussing DC COMIC's most recent massive, company wide reboot...


27 May 17:41



30 Dec 21:17

Daily orgasms can greatly reduce risk of prostate cancer

by Mark Frauenfelder


One out of seven men will get prostate cancer. Unfortunately, most of the risk factors have to do with age, race, and family history, so they are not modifiable. But new research suggests that daily orgasms will reduce the risk of prostate cancer by over 20 percent. From The Telegraph:

The study data showed that the participants who ejaculated more than 21 times a month were at a 22 per cent lower risk of getting the disease. As for how men achieved ejaculation, it is not a requirement to have a sex partner. Whether it be sexual intercourse, nocturnal emission, or masturbation, all are beneficial.

From an interview with Dr. Jennifer Rider of Harvard Medical School, who conducted the research:

The current study is the largest prospective study to date on ejaculation frequency and prostate cancer. It includes 18 years of follow up of almost 32,000 healthy men, 3839 of whom later were diagnosed with prostate cancer. We asked men about their average monthly frequency of ejaculation between the ages of 20-29, 40-49, and in the year prior to the questionnaire (1991). We find that frequency of ejaculation throughout life course is inversely associated with risk of prostate cancer at all three of these time points. For instance, men who have an average monthly ejaculation frequency of 21 or more times/month at ages 40-49 have a statistically significant 22% reduction in risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men with a frequency of 4-7 times/month, adjusting for multiple dietary and lifestyle factors, and prostate cancer screening history.

Dr. Rider adds: "While these data are the most compelling to date on the potential benefit of ejaculation on prostate cancer development, they are observational data and should be interpreted somewhat cautiously."

(Image: Wikimedia/National Institutes of Health)

11 Dec 17:38

Regarding the current STAR WARS media and product saturation...


30 Nov 19:57

To her friend...


23 Sep 17:29

Peaks And Valleys: The Financial Realities Of The Writer’s Life

by terribleminds

Two pieces of reading homework before we begin:

First up, the ever-smart Kameron Hurley — the Cold Equations that govern publishing.

Second, the big news surrounding the Author’s Guild survey that suggests more and more authors are getting paid less and less, and something-something poverty line.

Kameron’s link — I got nothing to add except, high-five to her for talking about this stuff.

The Author’s Guild survey — nnnyeah, I’m not really willing to count that as meaningful information. The data in that survey, according to Publisher’s Weekly, skews this way:

The survey, conducted this spring by the Codex Group, is based on responses from 1,674 Guild members, 1,406 of whom identified either as a full-time author, or a part-time one. The majority of respondents also lean older—89% are over the age of 50—and toward the traditionally published end (64%).

Note that I am not a guild member. I’m not sure I know many (any?) guild members.

It’s a very narrow slice of the author cake, and made even narrower when you consider how many of them are strictly traditionally-published, and how many are over 50 years of age. (I’m not suggesting any age-ist critique, but rather, I’m noting that the more you dwindle survey participants, the shallower the pool becomes of meaning.)

That said, regardless of the depth (or lack of depth) the author’s guild survey possesses, I think once in a while it’s a good idea to wad up all the financial realities that surround a writer’s existence, cram them into a cannon, and then fire them top speed into your solar plexus.

I am a full-time writer.

I do pretty okay for myself. I support my family with my words, which is pretty cool — and, no doubt, pretty rare. I am aware and have been privy to the many peaks and valleys of a writer’s career, and the key to surviving as a writer is learning how to survive the valleys — either figuring out how to glide from peak to peak, or having a plan to weather the lean times when things go down. Surviving the peaks is easy — everyone enjoys good news. But some authors can’t navigate the stark elevation drop and, understandably, move on to more stable ground.

Let’s talk about the financial realities that you’ll deal with — both peaks and valleys.

On advances, sure, there still exists those advances that are $100,000, or are up over a million. But if you’re a new author, you’ll probably find yourself in the $5k – $15k range. And if you’re a practiced, published author, you might drift higher, which is from $15k-35k.

You’ll note that none of those numbers individually make for good full-time money.

You can do okay on $35k, but depending on where you live, it might strain the budget.

(And here, a digression: where you live actually matters to the writer. It doesn’t matter in terms of BEING CLOSE TO THE ACTION — your proximity to NY Publishing is not as important to an author as proximity to LA MovieLand is to a screenwriter. No, it matters because some parts of the money cost less than others. If you are one of those writers who wants very badly to live in New York City or its surrounding environs, be prepared to discover that your book advance will pay for 14 minutes of rent, and you’ll be able to maybe afford an apartment that is roughly the size of a dented Porta-potty. In fact, spoiler warning: it is a dented Porta-potty. This is also true if you want to live in most of the big cities. Everything in the cities is more expensive. I live in Pennsyltucky, where things are more expensive than, say, Down South or the Middle Of American Cornsville, but remain a helluva lot less expensive than NYC. So, if you want your advance money to stretch like Spandex — don’t live in the city. Also don’t forget to budget for health care.)

Now, one of the ways that this is softened somewhat is that an author often ends up signed for a multi-book deal — usually two or three, or if you’re the mighty John Scalzi, a 43-book deal to the tune of a basket of golden dodo eggs. (That monster doesn’t even hoard his eggs like a proper person would. He just eats them. Greedily eats the baby golden dodos right out of their little luxe eggs. The crunch of tiny porcelain bones echoing across his moon veranda.) So, a $5k book deal becomes $10k or $15k. A $33k book deal, when tripled, becomes a low six-figure deal. And when that happens, that’s you cresting a peak — but it’s also good to keep your eyes peeled ahead for when that money dries up and leaves you again in a valley. (Valleys are when you try to write the books you owe and also try to stir up new book deals.)

Ostensibly, this is a good thing.

Except –

Consider the nature of the multi-book deal. Often they want to turn this into a series deal — three books might mean a trilogy, or two books might mean the start of a series (or more problematically, two-thirds of a trilogy, which means if those two books don’t sell, the trilogy will never complete). This is a tough row to hoe because traditional wisdom says that book sales for an SFF series don’t tend to go up — so, if you sell 1500 copies of that first book, it’s not expected that book two will sell more than that and is likely to, in fact, sell fewer copies. I distrust the logic behind this, as some readers want to buy into a series after it has a few books out — or they want a trilogy only when it’s completed because they’ve been burned too many times by trilogies that failed to complete — and ironically, it’s this exact logic that sometimes causes trilogies to die in the crib. B&N will see that the first book didn’t sell that well, and they will cut order for the second book — which helps ensure that second book will sell more poorly, at least in physical format. (B&N has a surprising amount of sway when it comes to traditional publishing. They can demand new covers, new titles, and so on. As the last big player in books, they have juice and they use it. Of course, they also lose more and more of their retail floor space to Things That Are Not Books.)

(Also worth a good news note here: indie bookstores are on the rise, sales-wise. But back to the bad news, B&N has suffered a loss again for the fifth straight quarter.)

Of course, that’s all physical stock. E-books are a different world, and Amazon rules that world.

Mostly. Sorta.

We now have news that says e-book sales are plateauing or even slipping in the face of print sales — the logic being, people are going back to print sales and that print is more future-proof against the digital insurgency. (Anecdotally, I have gone back to mostly print reading except when I’m traveling. Electronic devices are sources of distraction, and even when they’re walled off from those distractions, they still tickle that twitchy internet-social-media-gamer gland in me and I find it harder to lose myself in the book). Of course, what you also need to note is that publishers set the e-book prices, and have in the last several months bumped those prices up, up, up — and Amazon undercuts those prices by dropping the physical copy cost.

So, what about e-books? All of this has been very firmly traditional-flavored — what about the author-publishers putting their own work out there? I’ve discussed this in the past, but obviously with self-publishing you lose access to any kind of advance and you cut off access to certain outlets and resources, but you also gain immediate access to data plus them sweet, sweet percentage cuts of each sale. (Though the larger cut of sales should feed back a little into the ecosystem as you pay for things like covers and editors and majordomos and jet-skis.)

Self-publishing has serious value for any author, but Amazon now dominates that ecosystem. Amazon sets the rules and can change them with the fickle whimsy of a maniac artificial intelligence. NOW YOUR PERCENTAGES ARE CUT IN HALF AND ALSO FOR EVERY BOOK SOLD YOU WILL RECEIVE AN ELECTRICAL SHOCK, Amazon yells through your computer speaker. And you say, quite correctly, But I can leave you any time, Amazon. And Amazon tells you to go ahead, sure, you go right ahead and leave. And then you leave and you discover that because so many people invested their time and effort into the Amazon ecosystem that really, the other sales environments are nowhere near as robust and so while you technically have other options, that’s like saying to a food vendor, “You don’t have to sell in the grocery store, you could just set up a farmstand on the side of the road.” A viable option for some, and some will truly rock the freedom of that. Others will find the lack of access to a wider audience a struggle. Plus, Amazon institutes new programs with the distractibility of a toddler on bath salts. KINDLE UNLIMITED. KINDLE SCOUT. KINDLE WORLDS. KINDLEFACE. KINDLE UNIVERSE. KINDLE DEEP DREAM. KINDLEPALOOZA. SOYLENT KINDLE. Those present new opportunities — opportunities to make more money and sell more books sometimes. And sometimes, opportunities to have the algorithms shift like tectonic plates, losing you sales and cutting your income.

The majority of your sales will come from Amazon and, if you promote it, from direct sales. B&N, Kobo, Smashwords — those sales will be, by most experiences (though not all!) marginal.

Let’s talk a little about sales numbers.

A book that sells a few thousand copies is probably a book that’s doing well.

A book that sells a few thousand copies in its first week is really spiffy.

Some books sell a few hundred copies. Which is, erm, not ideal.

If you want on a bestseller list, expect that you’ll need to sell (roughly) 5,000 copies. Each bestseller list is curated differently and fails to factor sales from certain sources (libraries, f’rex).

For the record, that means that in a country with a population of 320 million, a bestselling novel might reach less than 0.002% of the total population. Books are a niche market.

Selling a few thousand copies also might mean earning out your advance — note that the higher the advance, the harder it is to earn it out. There is no guaranteed metric on earning out. Depends on format, book cost, where they sold, who the publisher is, if a butterfly flapped its wings in Tokyo, and if you put out the proper sacrifices to all the local and national gods. Note too that booksellers can also return unsold books which can ding your sales numbers and, for all I know, impact your spiritual karmic debt and force you to be reborn in your next life as an unpaid Huffington Post blogger. *sad trombone*

Some publishers share sales data quickly. Some won’t share it until your statements are due, and publisher statements arrive with all the speed of a three-legged, antediluvian mule. You have access to BookScan through Amazon, but BookScan is notoriously unreliable (expect it to reveal about 50-80% of actual print sales, and no digital sales — also it puzzles me to this day that Amazon refuses to offer authors the added value of telling them their daily sales numbers of traditionally-published releases, though that might undercut the value of their passive-aggressive impossible-to-discern “sales ranking” numbers, which have about as much meaning as the backwards-talking dwarf from Twin Peaks). A lot of time you operate under the auspices of grave, anxious uncertainty when it comes to the question of exactly how well your book is doing.

And how well your book does goes into the equation a publisher runs when considering whether or not to publish your next book. Again, go back to read Kameron’s post, where she lays this equation out as Books Sold + Marketability + Love. This equation also factors into bookstores choosing to carry — and hand-sell — your book. They’ll carry books that sell well. They’ll push books that will look good on shelves or that the publisher has promoted to sales tables or endcaps. They’ll carry and promote books by authors the booksellers or sales team likes. Amazon is of course outside of this — as they are outside many of the traditional systems (and mostly, thankfully so). Amazon gives little shit about you as an author or your book. They’ll sell it. It’s an always open access channel because they have theoretically infinite shelf space. Sure, this changes when it comes time to promote inside Amazon — getting onto deal pages or into certain sales — then who you are and what your book is might matter. Those are curated by people, not by whatever roving Spider Robots govern the rest of the site.

All of this is to say, it’s all quite tricky.

Peaks and valleys. And the “realities” I’m talking about are variable and unknown — so variable and so unknown that it’s hard to even peg them as confirmed realities. Writers don’t actually have a lot of data. We’re not sure what works, what doesn’t. We’re not given hard facts on why a book does well or why it doesn’t. You hear urban fantasy doesn’t sell, and yet Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin Hearne are all rocking. You hear horror is anathema, but some of the best books and writers out there right now are ostensibly writing horror novels (Paul Tremblay, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Mira Grant). As I am wont to say, publishing is positively oracular. It’s a lot of splayed-open pigeons and futures discerned through loops and piles of bird guts.

To go from peak to peak, you do what you can do.

What you can do is write the best book you can write.

That is, of course, nowhere near enough to save you or survive — bad books can do well, and good books die on the vine all the fucking time. Luck is a factor. You can lean into luck, but you can’t manufacture it. (Put differently: it’s easier to summon lightning than to create it.)

So, you not only write the best book you can write, but — you write as much as you care to write. How do I do this thing that I do? How do I personally survive the financial aspect of the writing life? I do it by writing a whole goddamn lot. That softens the valleys and lengthens the peaks because I keep a steadily rolling series of advances, royalties, and D&A payouts. Plus, I ameliorate all that with self-publishing money — that money comprises maybe 25% of my total annual income, but it comes faster and with monthly regularity. Ah, but here’s the rub –

Some traditional publishers have non-competes, which makes it harder to publish across multiple publishers and, if they’re being really rough on you, harder to publish self-pub work, too.

This can shiv a writer right in the kidneys if you’re not careful. Not that it’s not that understandable that publishers would want this — non-complete clauses that directly highlight specific competitive products (meaning, YOU CAN’T PUBLISH NOVELS IN THIS DIRECTLY COMPETING GENRE versus YOU CAN’T PUBLISH ANYTHING EVER EVER EVER AND DON’T EVEN TRY OR WE WILL MURDER YOUR FACE) are totally understandable. And even the broader competition can be problematic in terms of booksellers. Unlike Amazon, they don’t have infinite shelf-space and if two of your books are coming out close to one another, that means the bookseller may make the choice to carry one over the other — which further means that one publisher will lose out over another. Plus, if you’re hoping to hit awards or best-of-lists or gain media for the book season upcoming, having multiple books so close together again forces a choice. Do they talk about Book X or Book Z? Who wins? Who loses?

And yet, it’s very difficult for an author to survive publishing one book a year.

So, again, what do you do?

A savvy, sassy, diverse mix will keep your bills paid. Make a budget. Have a calendar.

Write some for a traditional publisher.

Write and publish some yourself, and time the releases accordingly.

Don’t sign contracts with clauses that box you up and choke you out. Help publishers who help you. Avoid publishers who treat you like anything less than a partner.

Get an agent — a good agent who works for you, not one who treats you like you work for them. Then, when you have this good agent, trust that agent. (But listen to your gut, too.)

Write across a variety of formats  — a novella here, a short story there. Write across media if you can manage it — freelance an article here, write a comic there, something, anything. Try a small press. Serialized content. Non-fiction. Keep loose. Get ready to jump to something new. Write only in one genre at your peril. Write only one type of thing to your detriment. Go all-in with any ecosystem and if that ecosystem dies, then what? Multi-class like a motherfucker. NINJA NECRO-WIZARD ACCOUNTANT. SORCEROUS DARK SIDE PALADIN. INQUISITOR FREMEN MONKEY TRAINER. Be a writer like those cool-ass assassins in movies where they unfurl their weapons case and it’s got like, knives and guns and grenades and lightsabers and shit. What you write is like your fighting style. Know many styles for maximum punch-fu. Be versatile. Be awesome. Be as productive as you are able and as career-focused as you can muster.

Don’t be some drunk driver just wildly veering through your career. Aim for stuff. Have goals and accelerate toward them aggressively. Stay sharp. Stay frosty. Be ready for the next thing, but not at the cost of the thing you’re currently doing.

Have a plan for the next year, for two years, for five years, and for ten years.

Course correct when you must.

But stay on target until you’re forced to do differently.

And fuck anybody who tells you that you can’t do this.

You got this. But you gotta have a hard head and a callused heart to survive.

Note that none of this information is going to be perfect — and no advice found here is perfectly applicable across the board. But it’s a good start.

A writing career is tough, financially, but far from impossible.

What else? What am I missing? Got questions?

Either me or other AUTHORIAL or PUBLISHING PROFESSIONALS might have answers.

[EDIT: Fellow penmonkey Django Wexler brought up a good point about subsidiary rights — one of the other ways to shorten the valleys and sharpen the peaks is through subsidiary rights. That means foreign rights, plus variable editions of the books [library, book club editions], audio, film/TV, games, etc. — you can’t really control those, strictly speaking, but what you can do is have you and your agent maximize your rights in that space. Keep as many of those rights for yourself and sell off the rights. The foreign rights for the Miriam Black series have paid considerably more than the domestic rights across two publishers. Add in the film/TV payment, and that number only jumps higher. Some publishers will keep certain rights, and when they sell the book’s rights, the advance is paid against your advance. Leading to theoretically quicker royalties. This isn’t ideal, though — the best and sharpest way to utilize those rights financially is to keep them for yourself and to sell them through your agent or through a sub-agent.]

* * *


An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Out now from Harper Voyager.

Doylestown Bookshop| WORD| Joseph-Beth Booksellers| Murder by the Book

PowellsIndiebound | Amazon| B&N| iBooks| Google Play| Books-a-Million

24 Aug 22:16

The Process Monkey Asks: What Is Your Writing Process?

by terribleminds

Let me say this up front: if you’re a writer of any age or experience level, you need to be looking at your writing process. Always. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. You gaze into it to see if there’s anything you do to change it. Anything you can do to understand it better. You’re looking for bolts to tighten, widgets to wax, hedgehogs to tickle. Anything to fully weaponize your writing process.

You don’t do this to become some kind of CRASS FICTION FACTORY. This isn’t (necessarily) about becoming faster. It’s about getting better. Why wouldn’t you want to tell better stories? Why wouldn’t you want to refine your process and make the thing that you do easier, more fun, and more awesome? WHY DON’T YOU LIKE AWESOME THINGS.

*clears throat*


My process is this, roughly:

At 6AM, I get up. Like a vampire rising from death into monstrous revivification.

I make myself some coffee. Pourover, because there’s something meditative about it. And the coffee is fucking amazing — I don’t just drink coffee for the kick. I drink it because it’s delicious.

I also drink it black as a mirror at night.

I put the coffee in a carafe — this one, actually — to keep it warm all day.


I get quick shit out of the way — any outstanding ASAP emails or tweets or silly stuff like that. Sam Sykes may be tweeting at me from the end of his day and the start of mine.

And then by 7AM, I get my ass to work.

I write in Microsoft Word. I’ve tried Scrivener, because people love it. It’s not my thing (though I am pleased if it is yours). Learning curve is too steep, it’s ugly as bad wallpaper, and I’m comfortable with a draft in Word going all the way through to the Track Changes stages of editing.

One small ritual ritual I have is, I have to make sure the font is right on the story.

Just a thing I gotta do. Probably the only “quirky” ritual component.

(That and the “bathing in goat’s blood” at 11:11AM every day.)

Eventually my son will be awake, and when he is, I am summoned by text message and then I head inside to do the whole breakfast thing, where he eats whatever it is that he wants to eat — pancakes or eggs or maybe he just wants to gnaw on the table like a nibbly bunny.

Then I walk with the dog every day and some days, run.

Then it’s back to the keyboard.

I write until I’m finished for the day, which is — nngh? Bare minimum, 2000 words in the day, but ideally I go above 3000. Like, for me, 2k is a barely passing grade. A D+ or something.

I write roughly 1000 words an hour. The first 1000 words is a bit sluggish, but the second 1000 words is where I usually move at a brisker, more limber pace.

I generally write for an hour, then take 15 minutes off to, y’know, fuck off in and around the Internet. I get on Twitter and TWEET THINGS. I get on Facebook and BOOK FACES. The usual.

I’m done writing new content by early afternoon, usually.

Then it’s onto lunch and whatever administrative or extraneous stuff needs a-doing. Outlines, emails, spreadsheets, finances, remembering where I put my pants.

I tend to do blog posts on weekends, though sometimes throughout the week too if there’s something that chafes my pee-hole enough that I have no choice but to write about it ASAFP.

Again, everything gets written right into MS Word.

And everything gets edited there, too.

First drafts get a look ideally from my agent, and then an another edit/polish (again: perfect world) before it gets catapulted into my editor’s eyeballs.

I track my day’s writing with a spreadsheet. I know if I’m over or under my daily goals. And I also know where I’m at according to my overall writing plan.

I tend to write a new novel ever one to four months. That’s first draft. Edits take longer.

And I think that’s it. That’s the process.

But now, I turn the question around to you. What is your process? How do you do it? How much time per day? Do you write every day? Whatever you feel like telling us about your writing process, I’m all ears. Like I said, I’m always a process monkey and it’s interesting to hear how everyone does it — no writer has the same writing process as the next. Some are similar; others are wildly different. Hell, just the quest to discover one’s writing process (similar to the quest to discover one’s voice) can be epic. Where are you at in this quest?

19 Aug 19:14

It Only Gets Harder Once You’re Published

by terribleminds

I get this sometimes from new writers:

“Well, at least you’re published.”

Or, “Well, you’ve had a lot of books published.”

Kind of a must be nice comment.

And it’s not entirely false, either.

I admit — there’s a big privilege to being, y’know, a published author. (I hesitate to say a “successful” author, in that success is a bullseye duct-taped to the back of a coke-addled hop-frog. I consider it a success just to finish a book. That right there is an Epic Eat-A-Motherfucking-Cupcake-Messily Grade-A Bonafide Success. Remember, most people finish a novel Once Every Never.) It’s amazing having a book out there. On shelves. In people’s hands. I’m privileged that anyone would want to read whatever cuckoo shit I’ve dumped out of my own head onto the paper. I get to play in a sandbox for a living, and people pay me to do it so they can watch.

It is, in fact, weird and wonderful.

It isn’t, however, without its own kind of stress.

I liken it to this metaphor: in a RPG, you start out as some dick-nosed schlub hunting rats with like, a sharpened spoon. You’re the worst warrior ever, basically, or the crappiest mage who knows all the worst spells (“I cast UNTIE SHOES on the ogre!” “Sorry, he’s more than ten feet away, and your spell has a limited range.” “Oh, goddamnit”). So, you think, I just need to level up, and then I’ll get to do cooler stuff. And you will. Them’s tru-fax. You’ll get to leave the spoon behind and pick up a proper sword. You’ll eventually be able to, I dunno, conjure flaming birds that you can summon to attack your foes.

But your foes also upgrade at the same time. It’s not like you become RANTHAGAR, VAGABOND PRINCE OF THE HISSING WASTES but you still hunt mice with your legendary blade. Now you fight dragons. You get better, but the world gets harder to match your skill. The pressures of the narrative increase: before, the townsfolk just asked that you get rid of those rats out of stables and cellars. But suddenly they’re pleading for you to save them from stompy orc armies or big smelly naked giants who keep stepping on all the houses. The quests increase in difficulty. The monsters get bigger even as your sword gets sharper and starts to sing showtunes.

The real world analog is like this:

You get a book deal, yay.

Then the book approaches release. You start getting reviews and pre-orders and buzz. Or bad reviews and no pre-orders. Or good reviews and no pre-orders. Or no buzz. Or some buzz but not enough buzz. Then the book comes out and: nervousness and excitement! Magic and madness! It lands on shelves. Into people’s hands. You have no idea how many gets sold. Even if you’re self-published and you can see the metrics unfolding before you — you still don’t know how the book is really doing. Are they digging it? Quitting before it’s done? How far in do they get before they abandon it? (The wizards at Amazon probably know all of this. They probably can say, if pressed, “The moment they gave up on your book is when you used the word ‘widdershins’ on page 47. That is the moment you plunged your book into ruination and ignominy.”)

A book release is a bright flash: a supernova of heat and light. And then it kinda collapses back in on itself and there’s this vacuum in its place that is akin to the feeling of summer being over, or of a vacation ending, or of the pit of shame you feel after successfully masturbating. And then you do it all again: you try to generate more heat and light. You write another book. Or a third book because the second one is maybe already in the pipeline. And those books come out and –

Listen, it’s the same thing. It’s the same thing now for me (ZER0ES is my 13th novel) as it was when my first book came out. I still feel nervous and excited. I still feel full of magic and madness. I still feel hungry and bewildered and scared. The pressure is, in fact, worse. Because every book that lands has to do well, or the next book after it is suddenly in question. And every book requires some kind of extra effort beyond just writing it — you gotta do the marketing honeybee butt-dance, you gotta write blogs and be on your game and go do stuff amongst ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS (remember that many writers are just introverts playing at extroversion; all failed actors afraid of the stage). Every time feels like the first time. Every book feels like the first book.

Maybe that changes. Maybe it’s different for other writers — of course, it must be, given that we’re all different people and not cloned clippings from the Author Tree.

Still — for me, at least, it’s still the same.

It’s wonderful and horrible and scary and amazing all in equal measure.

And right now it’s even harder than it was when I started. I know more. I’m better at this. I’ve done well enough with my past books. And that only amps the pressure. It doesn’t reduce it.

I wouldn’t change any of it for the world, and I wouldn’t give it up for any other work. I adore it. This is the kind of pressure on which I thrive — but I think it’s worth noting that it’s the same all the way down. Unpublished writers, newly-published writers, legacy authors — I think we’re all just putting ourselves out there. Every book is a chance to make readers or lose them. Every story is one soaked with our blood and our tears and every story is our weirdo book-baby stumbling into the world. We all want the best for it. We all fear the worst for it.

But we keep on keeping on.

Because this is who we are. Isn’t it?

17 Jun 16:23

While discussing STAR WARS fans...


04 May 18:41

Coming soon: The World Needs Bad Men

by melissamilazzo

As many of you know, whenever I’m quiet I’m busy. Lately I’ve been very quiet because I’ve been very busy with my biggest project to date: a collection of essays on True Detective Season 1. I’m still at work on the final pieces of the manuscript, but the book will be coming out this summer from the good folks at Sequart publishing.

Much like my essays already available on Sequart’s site, the book will focus on the genre elements as well as literature, film, musical and comics influences at work in the first season. Adam & Mark Stewart are contributing a excellent piece focusing exclusively on the comics influences and I’ve written a musical appendix listing all of the songs used in the show along with a brief analysis of how they contribute to the scenes in which they appear. Miguel Rodriguez of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival and podcast also contributed some intriguing film suggestions for our related readings/ viewings appendix.


15 Apr 16:22

I'm Warren Ellis, and This Is How I Work

by Andy Orin

Warren Ellis is a writer. You may know him from Transmetropolitan, his acclaimed cyberpunk comic book series about a gonzo journalist, or from his novels like Gun Machine. And then there are the television shows, film projects, and magazine columns, many of which comment on our relationship with technology and the future.


27 Jan 17:39

ChiZine Publications to Give Away Books as Part of Family Literacy Day

by mmoore


TORONTO, Ontario (January 26, 2015) — To celebrate Family Literacy Day, January 27, ChiZine Publications (CZP) will be giving away copies of its young adult books. Trade paperbacks will be distributed at select bookstores across Canada while PDF versions will be available for free for a limited time from the ChiZine website.

17 Nov 19:57

Vice Magazine Just Started Publishing Science Fiction Online

by Charlie Jane Anders

Vice Magazine Just Started Publishing Science Fiction Online

Another new science fiction magazine has just joined the internet. Vice Magazine, which was already writing about science fiction via its excellent Motherboard site, has launched a SF mag called Terraform, with stories by Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling. But the interesting part is, they want to see more fiction go viral.


04 Nov 15:59

Molly Crabapple's 14 rules for creative success in the Internet age

by Molly Crabapple

Some concise business info I've seen for artistic freelancers. I'm not making a living off my writing yet, but this lines up with my experience so far.

To celebrate the release of my new book, Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, I've invited some of my favorite creators and thinkers to write about their philosophy on the arts and the Internet. Today, Molly Crabapple presents her 14 iron laws of creativity. -Cory Doctorow Read the rest
03 Nov 18:32

Some advice for his friend...


28 Oct 17:53

Ridley Scott to produce miniseries on rocket scientist, occultist Jack Parsons

by Dan Ruderman

The colorful life of Jack Parsons as revealed in the biography Strange Angel by George Pendle will appear on AMC in miniseries form, according to a Deadline report.

Read the rest
28 Oct 17:51

The Hemingwrite: retro word processor with cloud backup and google docs integration

by Mark Frauenfelder

Less distractions, that's for sure

Laughing Squid: "The Hemingwrite is a writing device styled after 90s word processors that features built-in syncing to contemporary technology, letting writers back up to the cloud and apps like Google Docs and Evernote."

29 Aug 16:00

Why This Bestselling Author Decided To Start Self-Publishing

by Karen Traviss

Why This Bestselling Author Decided To Start Self-Publishing

Author Karen Traviss has published a slew of successful books, from her own Wess'har Wars series to a number of Star Wars, Halo and Gears of War novels. But for her new techno-thriller Going Grey, she decided to walk away from a mainstream publishing contract and self-publish. She explains why.


27 Aug 17:02

Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

by Jason Weisberger

Tim Powers' novella, Salvage and Demolition, is a film noir love story showing time travel may not be neat and orderly.

Read the rest
25 Aug 16:04

Revival Does Diversity Right

by melissamilazzo

Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends


These days there’s a lot of discussion around diversity in comics, both on the page and in the creative teams. There’s also a lot of noise about the “right” and “wrong” ways to add diversity to stories, most of which have more to do with personal taste than any objective standards of success. In light of all that, I want to nominate Revival as a series that is getting it right in all the best ways and pulling a cool twist on the nearly done-to-death (no pun intended) zombie genre.

One day in rural Wisconsin, the dead came back to life, but they don’t come back as zombies. The dead come back as themselves –  confused, disappointed, amazed and scared as everyone else around them. They are dubbed “revivers” and when a murder takes place at the same time as the revival, it’s unknown if these revivers really are who they appear to be. The event isn’t widespread; it’s limited to a single, sparsely populated county. The area is put under government quarantine as national media, religious zealots and conspiracy theorists descent gather to fan the flames of fear. We follow Officer Dana Cypress as she tries to solve a brutal murder and keep a lid on the mounting pressures of her community, family and personal life.

Author Tim Seely’s set-up is clever because it allows him to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of zombie stories. Everyone in the world of Revival already knows about zombies. They’re all aware of the Romero films, so Seely doesn’t need to waste any story time on characters struggling for a metaphor to understand what is happening. This frees Seely up to focus on the far more interesting personal struggles and conflicts his characters face. He also wisely limits the scope and duration of the revival event, which means that the story doesn’t get sidetracked with the possibility of everyone who dies over the course of it coming back to life. At the outset of the story there are a limited number of revivers. This allows Seely to switch the tension from panic over a growing horde of revivers to paranoia over undiscovered revivers hiding in the quarantined community. The fear is no longer of outsiders or others. The fear is that the familiar faces neighbors, friends and loved ones are harboring a dark secret. Who do you trust? Do you judge people by what you see on the surface or do you judge them by what you fear lurks beneath the surface?

In shifting the source of fear in Revival, Seely creates a story framework that emphasizes the relationships between characters, and in turn, the characters themselves. This is exactly the type of set-up that could be hampered by a lack of diversity in the cast. Every new gender, ethnicity, role, religion or class provides a new type of conflict or doubt between characters, another reason for characters to questions each others motives or to misunderstand their attempts to help. Seely chooses rural Wisconsin as his setting, an area where the population is usually assumed to be whiter than the snow that covers it all winter. In reality, the Midwest has a large Hmong population. Seely includes a Hmong community in the quarantined zone and fully incorporates it in the story. He also includes a Muslim man as the liaison from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing him to bring up the very real generalization and fear happening in the US today. Three of the main characters (Dana Cypress, her sister Em and the reporter, Ms. Tao) are women and none of them are one-dimensional. They each have complex lives with shifting responsibilities to family, job and self-satisfaction.

What is most impressive is how diversity adds to the organic nature of setting, character and conflict created in Revival. The central conflict – that the dead have risen – is not new, but it’s just a starting point for the story. The setting defines what type of characters can populate the story. Diversity of characters increases the possibilities that can come out of the main conflict. Each of these three elements acts upon the other, working together to create a single story and in Revival, that story is an imaginative twist on a familiar tale.

I also need to throw in a few words of praise for artist Mike Norton. His style is clean and expressive. I love the resemblances he gives family members. Norton also rewards those of us who “read” the pictures as much as the text by providing visual clues (Keep an eye on those police patches!) and visual irony (On her way to investigate a murder Officer Cypress passes a sign that proudly proclaims “The City of Wausau is a CRIME FREE COMMUNITY.”). And the cover is great. Look at it up there, dripping with black & white noir and the cold desolation of a Wisconsin winter.

That’s all the raving I have in me for today, so if you want to know more go pick up Revival!

20 Aug 22:56


17 Jul 19:41


by (Calamity Jon)

I believe this guy was a scientist.

Ross Radke
Original illustration by Al Milgrom and Joe Rubinstein
16 Jul 23:34

submitted by Will Kane

submitted by Will Kane

17 Apr 15:35

True Detective part 4: The World Needs Bad Men

by melissamilazzo

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE


– Rust Cohle

Detectives Hart and Cohle are bad men in the position to do bad things. As Cohle points out to a prostitute, “Of course I’m dangerous. I’m police. I can do terrible things to people with impunity.” It’s a common theme in pulp and detective fiction that in order to stop criminals the men who chase them must become equally as brutal. What makes True Detective unique is that it doesn’t focus on the morality of Hart and Cohle’s decisions. It remains focused on the bigger question: Why does Evil exist? If Evil did not exist, there would be no need for men like Hart and Cohle voluntarily spend decades of their lives chasing it. If there were no monsters, we would need no labyrinths to contain them and no heroes to slay them.

In the Minotaur myth the hero is Theseus, a brave youth who volunteers to kill the Minotaur in order to end the practice of sacrificing boys and girls to him year after year. Cohle clearly fills this role in True Detective, being the driving, obsessive force who runs headlong in to the labyrinth in pursuit of the monster. But it’s Hart who fills a more quiet, but equally important role: that of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos who falls in love with Theseus and gives him the ball of string he uses to make it out of labyrinth alive. For all the jokes about the “bromance” in True Detective, there’s no denying that Hart and Cohle are involved in a meaningful relationship. On Cohle’s side, the interest seems largely driven by utility at first – Hart is a good partner and does solid police work. Hart’s interest in Cohle is a little more enigmatic. Hart is well respected by his superiors. He’s on track to rise through the ranks of the police force, should he want to, and yet he chooses to partner with Cohle, an obvious trouble maker. Cohle bothers him on a visceral level, challenging Hart’s religion and calling him on the hypocrisy of spouting family values while cheating on his wife. There seems to be no gain for Hart in maintaining his partnership with Cohle, and yet he chooses to follow him in to the labyrinth once in 1995 and again in 2012.

In his interviews, Hart fancies himself a great judge of character, but ends up telling us more about his own nature than he does about anyone else. He is a man who knows what matters in life, what keeps people tethered to their communities and responsibilities. In the first episode, he describes the problem with Cohle by saying, “Past a certain age, a man without a family can be a bad thing.” In a later portion of the interview, he talks about his security business and Private Investigative work telling the younger Detectives, “once you’re out (of the police work), you have to stay busy. Most end up in the cemetery.” Both are good pieces of advice, but Hart isn’t great at following through on them. He loses his family through infidelity and his retirement is far less busy than he would have people believe. Still, he can see the thread that ties people and society together, just as clearly as Cohle can see the spiral pattern of the universe. Theseus and Ariadne, Hart and Cohle, both pairs of characters need each other in order to kill monsters and live to tell the tale.

One of the first things Cohle says upon waking up in the hospital after killing Errol Childress is, “We didn’t get them all.” Even fresh from a coma Cohle knows that the job of slaying Evil is not done. It is Detective Hart, the man who holds the string, the man who knows the way out of the labyrinth and back to society, who keeps Cohle from getting sucked in to his destructive spiral again by reminding him, “but we got ours.”

Detectives Hart and Cohle have done their time as bad men guarding the labyrinth. They’ve played their part and in turn, the job has taken a toll on them. By the end of the show Hart is gone to seed, divorced and estranged from his daughters. Cohle is a suicidal alcoholic. The only way for them to have a happy ending is to step away from the chase, to stop running down the same path only to find a different monster at the end each time. There are other, younger men like Detectives Papania and Gilbough to guard the labyrinth and fight the monsters. In time they too will age or die and the cycle will begin again with new names, new faces, new monsters. Time is a flat circle and this story is another version of a myth about a labyrinth, a monster to be slain and two people searching for a way out.

16 Apr 16:38

True Detective Part 3: There’s a Monster at the End of It

by melissamilazzo

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE


– Rust Cohle

In the detective genre the term “monster” is nearly synonymous with the concept of big Evil – it’s not tossed around for street thugs who kill over drug deals gone bad or squabbling in-laws who shoot one another over a borrowed car. “Monster” is reserved for those who commit the most heinous of crimes: the rapists, the torture artists, the child killers. True Detective operates under the same rules. We see a parade of terrible people doing terrible things, but there’s only one individual referred to as a “monster.” It’s not even Reverend Tuttle, he of the child porn tapes. No, “Monster” is reserved for Errol Childress: the man with the scars, the man that Hart and Cohle chase through a labyrinth and kill.


The most famous labyrinth in the Western world is the Cretan Labyrinth, designed by the architect Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. Being the product of bestiality, the Minotaur fits the classical definition of a Monster, but he is also the living reminder of the sins of his father, King Minos. When he ascended to the throne of Crete, King Minos was obligated to sacrifice a beautiful white bull to show honor to the gods. Being greedy, King Minos ignored his duty and kept the bull for himself. The gods had their revenge on the selfish king. They made his wife, the queen, lust after the great white bull so much so that she copulated with it and birthed a deformed child with the head of bull and the body of a man. The Minotaur’s deformity and his entire existence is a direct result of his father’s greed and selfishness.

In True Detective, Errol Childress, the scarred man, also bears the sins of his father and grandfather. In episode 7, Hart and Cohle learn that Errol is the illegitimate grandchild of a member of the wealthy and powerful Tuttle family. If Sam Tuttle, Errol’s grandfather, had not been so sexually greedy and fond of philandering, there wouldn’t be a murderous bastard grandchild on the loose in the bayou. Like the Minotaur, Errol Childress also has a facial deformity that can be traced to his father. In talking to a former Tuttle family domestic servant, Hart and Cohle learn that Errol’s father burned him when he was just a child, giving him his trademark scars.

Both the Minotaur and Errol Childress are monsters and both fit the big “E” definition of evil; they are murderous, incestuous, the products of brutality and bestiality. Though they are removed from society these monsters still exact their tolls. In the Minotaur myth, every seven years the city of Athens chooses seven youths and seven maidens to be eaten by the Minotaur or die while lost in the labyrinth. Similarly, Errol Childress abducts and murders his young victims on a schedule and with a great deal of ritual. When Detective Cohle chases Errol in to a series of labyrinthine tunnels we see what appears to be a human skeleton with antlers wrapped in a shroud, a pile of children’s clothes and an altar made of branches and human skulls. Errol’s labyrinth is a final resting place for sacrificed children, just as much as the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Both places are shrines to death of innocents and the endurance of Evil. A chosen few enter, but only the monsters survive.

In most myths resolution comes with the death of a monster, but True Detective subverts this pattern. Hard and Cohle slay monsters in both 1995 and 2012, but they do not gain any satisfaction or resolution from their heroic deeds. If True Detective followed a standard narrative, the story would have ended in 1995 after the Detectives killed the bad guys and rescued a little girl. Instead, this “success” leads to a collapse of the partnership and further doubt and unease about the morals by which they live. No one else seems to notice it, but the detectives know theirs is a tainted victory. In truth, they didn’t really save the children the found. The boy was already dead when they arrived and the girl was irreparably damaged by her abuse. Cohle is particularly haunted by his actions, and the incomplete nature of his victory. When recounting the incident he says, “and that little boy and that little girl, they’re gonna be in that room again, and again, and again, forever.” In 2012, Hart and Cole chase Evil again, but this time there are no innocents to save. No children to rescue.The second time around, the Detectives want something more than to save people or protect their community. They want the truth about Evil, they want an answer to the question that haunted them for 20 years: why does Evil exist? When Hart and Cohle find and kill Errol, the physical embodiment of Evil, they find no answers. The center of the labyrinth may have held the monster, but it was devoid of the truth that they so desperately sought.

We don’t need to look to fiction to understand why catching a flesh and blood monster isn’t satisfactory. In real life, the government captured, tried and convicted Jeffrey Dahmer. Top forensic psychologists spent months questioning Dahmer, trying to learn what drove him to torture, rape, kill and eat his victims before decorating his home with their bones. Their interviews gave us more detail than anyone would want to know about these activities, but left us with no more insights as why such an Evil exists in the world. Capturing this real life monster left us with a few more tools in our psychological profiling kit, but it left the good people of the world just as powerless as we were before. We have as much hope of stopping the next serial killer as we do of stopping the next hurricane that will hit the Gulf coast. Evil is a cycle, a spinning force of nature repeating the same patterns over and over again. It cannot be stopped permanently, but it can be contained by structures like the labyrinth and held in check by men like Theseus and Detectives Hart and Cohle.

Our Thrilling Conclusion: Part 4: The World Needs Bad Men

15 Apr 15:39

True Detective part 2: Time is a Flat Circle

by melissamilazzo

If you want to start from the beginning, part one of the True Detective Essay can be found HERE


– Rust Cohle

One of the key symbols in True Detective is a spiral. It first appears on the Dora Kelly Lange’s corpse 1995, but it pops up elsewhere in the investigation, as a tattoo on a suspect, and in the shape of a flock of birds as it flies over the abandoned church.

A spiral is defined by the fact that it is open, rather than closed. A spiral is a line that circles itself, winding and growing but always retaining the exact same shape. It’s the repetition of a spiral that evokes a sense of inevitability. Once the pattern is established, it will never change. The idea of spirals and repeated patterns doesn’t just appear visually in True Detective – it also comes up in language and thought, most notably in Cohle’s rambling interview responses, where he says, “Someone once told me ‘time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over again.”

The spiral is also significant in that it is a naturally occurring shape. We see it in everything from a nautilus shell to the Milky Way galaxy. We also see it in hurricanes, which come up repeatedly in True Detective. Though we don’t see or experience hurricanes Rita, Andrew or Katrina in True Detective, they are all mentioned by name. These storms force residents of the Gulf Coast in to an unending cycle of destruction, loss and rebuilding. They also provide a key plot point by destroying evidence held by the police and paper files held by Reverend Tuttle.

Hart and Cohle enter start their own cycle of destruction and rebuilding when they see the spiral drawn on Dora Kelly Lange’s corpse and they spend twenty years spinning around that central point. Over the course of the show we see two cycles in the investigation of the same crime. The two detectives follow the same trajectory in both 1995 and 2012: a murdered woman, an uneasy partnership, a growing trust, a breakthrough after months of investigation, a step outside the boundaries of the law to catch the killer and finally, a feeling of dissatisfaction even after thwarting a killer and being lauded as heroes. The show drives home the idea of repetition and inevitability by using the same characters from 1995 to act out the 2012 portion of the story. Hart’s wife and daughters, Reverend Tuttle, the revival preacher and the girl from the trailer park brothel are all slightly different than when we first saw them, but they still have roles to play. They are trapped in this same spiral just as much as Detectives Hart and Cohle.

Most importantly for our analysis, a spiral is also a labyrinth; the open end is an invitation to follow the curved path of empty space between the lines. It’s notable that the season finale of the show is named “Form and Void,” a title that could be a description of the actual labyrinth through which Hart and Cohle chase the killer – the form being the walls of the labyrinth and the void being the dead space between. That negative space is where Hart and Cohle live and work. It’s the space between what is known and what is yet to be discovered, what is legal and illegal, what is right and what is wrong. In modern English the words labyrinth and maze are synonymous, but in classical terms there is a distinction between the two. A maze is a puzzle with multiple paths and choices of direction. A labyrinth is a shape with a single, non-branching path that leads to the center. It supports the idea that there is a single, inevitable truth to be found if one only follows the path all the way to the end. The viewers, like the detectives, want there to be a central truth, a clear answer at the end of the long and winding investigation, but sometimes a singular answer does not provide solace or resolution.

True Detective Part 3: There’s a Monster at the End of It

14 Apr 20:55

True Detective part 1: Start Asking the Right Fucking Questions

by melissamilazzo

I recently binged all of HBO’s True Detective. Though not perfect, the show is gorgeous and full of enough mystery and symbolism to keep me puzzling over it long after I was finished watching. Nic Pizzolatto’s writing and the performances by Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle make this a really memorable piece of work.

After heading online to read what other people had to say, I was surprised to find that some viewers and critics found the show boring or disappointing – especially the season finale. These criticisms didn’t make sense until I realized that most people probably came to the show thinking that it would be a mix between psychological horror and police procedural. It’s not an unreasonable expectation, given that True Detective is influenced by the grit of Pulp Detective Fiction, cult horror classics like The King in Yellow and authors like Thomas Ligotti. If viewed through that lens, True Detective is filled with too much philosophical mumbo-jumbo and offers an unsatisfying resolution to the core mystery. Maybe it’s just an unhealthy tendency to obsessively over analyze, but I viewed the show as a modern retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur Myth where instead of two Athenian kids facing down a monster in a labyrinth, two Southern detectives face down a monster… in a labyrinth. Interested? Check out more below the jump.

– Rust Cohle

True Detective is not a linear story. It flashes forward and backward in time, winding through almost 20 years in the lives of Detectives Hart and Cohle. It twists around and around in search of answers, but the questions always seem to be shifting. At the outset of the show the question is clear: who murdered former prostitute Dora Kelly Lange and used her dead body as an art project? As straightforward as that question seems, it quickly leads to others. Are previous unsolved murders connected to the Dora Lange case? Why is Rev. Tuttle so interested? Why the pressure to hand it off to a special task force? Should the detectives obey the letter of the law or the spirit of the law to get the information they need? Underneath all these surface level questions lies the real mystery at the center of the series: what is the true nature of Evil? (I’m using the capital “E” Evil here because I mean the big concept of evil, not any one particular act of evil doing.) The detectives need and answer to this question in order to find the killer’s motivation and track him. They need it in order to understand the clues that he has left behind. After a new killing comes to light decades after they believed the original killer to be dead, Hart and Cohle need to know the answer to this for personal as well as professional reasons; they are both haunted by the evil they have seen in the course of their careers. By the mid-point of the show both Cohle and Hart have both killed in the line of duty and lied about it. They need validation that they are different from the other bad men in the world, that there was truth in the justice that they meted out as agents of the law. For all the twists and turns in the investigation, the desire to understand and define Evil is the question that drives Detectives Hart and Cohle and, in turn, the entire series. All the other questions are false paths or dead ends in a dark and confusing labyrinth.

True Detective part 2: Time is a Flat Circle

02 Apr 15:46

Patronage and the Arts

by melissamilazzo

I’ve always joked about how we need to bring back a patronage system to allow artists the time to create while still having enough funds to fill their bellies. Then this morning, I saw that Jason Shiga, creator of awesome stories like Bookhunter and Meanwhile (which I reviewed here ) is actively seeking patrons at You can check out his page here . What’s interesting about this system is that, unlike Kickstarter, it doesn’t seem to be linked to a single project or deliverable. . All of the artists I’ve previewed give patrons some special access or item that is not available to the general public, but it’s not a direct one-for-one exchange. The focus is on making small (as low as $1.00 a month), regular payments to the artist of your choice. Using this model, if an artist was able to get enough patrons, he or she could have a steady income and be free of the scramble to produce, sell, get paid and produce again before the money from the first job runs out. It’s a direct method of supporting creative efforts and a way to be sure that 100% of the money you’re giving goes directly to the artist. I’m very interested to see how a model like this works, as it could give people a different way to be creative consumers – a chance to sponsor the creative process and not just the tangible result.

What do you think?

19 Feb 17:29

How I Make a Living as a Writer (and You Can, Too)

by James Altucher

How I Make a Living as a Writer (and You Can, Too)

When I first wrote a novel in 1991, I remember walking down the road and seeing a pretty girl and thinking, "She might like me now."