Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Agents are people too - A la Mary Kole

Today is the final day of the lessons I learned / remembered at the SCBWI Tokyo Mary Kole event.

5. Agents are real people too.

Tokyo is not the smallest branch of SCBWI. It's probably not far from though. And it's got to be one of the most functional for it's size. I think the Mary Kole event might be the biggest SCBWI Tokyo event that I've been to. There were about 40 of us.

I say that to say this: going to an event with us is a very personal endeavour. I wasn't one of hundreds or thousands. I was one of 40. At lunch and dinner, I was one of 8 and 12. It meant I got a lot of opportunity to interact with Miss Kole.

At meals, we didn't talk about publishing at all. We talked like an old friend had come to visit. We talked about food. And travel. And growing up. And things to see and do in Japan and Hong Kong. More than ever before an agent become something more than a voice on a podcast, a name on a website, or a face in a 2 x 4 pixellated square.

Realistically, we all know that agents have lives outside publishing. They have things they love and hate. Families. Hobbies other than reading. But we're writers. What does realism have to do with anything? So often we forget the people side, and we think of agents as just another cog in the publishing wheel. As the evil step-mother who's just looking for a reason to lock our manuscript away in a tower somewhere.

Thing is, if agents are real people, (and they are) then they've got some things in common with us. This industry we're in is a tough one. It's always been, but it's getting tougher. And if they're in it, that probably means they love it as much as we do. If they're reading queries, that's not because writing rejection letters makes them giggle like Pee Wee Herman. It's because they want to find a gem, fall in love, laugh, cry, have an adventure, discover a new world. It's because they want to give those same things to the rest of the world.

Thanks to Mary Kole for reminding me.

And thanks to all the fantastic people who keep this industry running like a well-oiled machine. To the agents *raises imaginary champagne * Thanks for keeping it real.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Weird and random

My computer decided that the back of the monitor will have a magnetic spot now. My brother says some computers have this, and I'll be bugging the computer manufacturer to see if that's normal for my model as soon as the West wakes up. 

(EDIT: Both my bro and the computer types think it's normal, but it still gives me a cool toy that freaks people out. Also, if it explodes, I've documented it and put it on the internet. Proof in the internet pudding, and all that jazz.)

Anyhow, I showed my colleagues at work, we spent half the afternoon playing with it.  

A Barbados dollar stands on its edge.


Even with the laptop open...


It can even hold up my keys. 

And play with magnets we did.

 Monfret (the lappy) decided I had a few screws loose.

 Don't run with scissors!
 Sorry I'm out!
 Que Chan (the dog) wonders at the magic of the floating can.

Apparently Monfret has the same musical tastes as my neighbour. 


Then Monfret started playing with the utility knife. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. 


 Que Chan to the rescue!

Oh, and the magnetism isn't the weirdest thing. This is:


video 

(Look at me bing all scientificky. :) Also, I apparently have a stronger accent when I film. Oh, and ignore the screaming children - we're next to a day care.)

That's right, my computer turns my camera on! Freaky!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oeuvre

Weird how yesterday's title was in Japanese, and today we're in French.

Oeuvre in French means work, like a work of art. In English it can be used to describe the entire life work of any creative person.

A long, long, long time ago I complained (possibly on this blog, but maybe even before I'd started blogging here) about a certain NYT best-selling artist whose characters all felt the same. I didn't mind them all having the same religion and the same body type. But I hated that they all had the same 2 or 3 hobbies, and the same fairly rare familial relationships. I felt like all the books were clearly the author inserted into different plots.

Recently, for the first time since I was in secondary school, I started reading multiple standalone books by the same author. And as I read, I realised that there were things that linked the books. Sometimes, it as a type of character, or a type of premise, or even a setting. Sometimes it was a theme. Sometimes it was so intangible that I couldn't even figure out what it was, even after 3 of 4 books by an author. And I realised that I loved it.

I realise now that it depends on how you look at it. If you LOVE photography, you may be thrilled to bittles everytime a character's hobby is snapping candids. But if you hate it, or even if you're lukewarm about it, it may grate on your nerves.

Things that are important to authors make their way into stories. Obviously, just look at the number of main characters who are writers themselves, or love books or poetry. But everything that you include in more than one story is a risk. A risk you take of alienating some readers. And endearing others.

It's important enough that it's worth some consideration as writers.

What common thread(s) do you want your stories to have?
What issues are important to you and how can you highlight them? (Ex. featuring more "other" characters.)
If you've completed more than one novel, even in first draft, re-read and see what keeps popping up.

For me, it's settings outside those well-known by Westerners. Barbados, Japan, and one dystopian setting based on India. Death is also a theme for me. So far noone's died in this year's nano. I'm shocked! Foreign languages surprise me by making an appearance in every book. In all but one novel, there have been multiple cultures featured.

I try hard to change the type of character every book. But I'm liking the type I'm writing this nano, and on the last inter-nano effort, so I may stick close to that in the future. I'm pretty good about changing jobs, and since I write YA, what my characters want to be when they grow up. I avoid characters who are writers, except in one book where it's a plot point. I think everyone's hobbies are different. And I've never checked it, but I think the characters of different books don't even share the same story-telling quirks. (I write mostly first person.)

I think the essential question to ask yourself when there are similarities in your oeuvre (planned or otherwise) is this:

If 75% of the people that read my last book were going to be pissed aout me including this again, would it still be important to include it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Juunin Toiro

Here in Japan, there's a saying 十人十色 (juunin, toiro) - ten men, ten colours. Ten people will act in ten different ways.

But there are a few- as there always are- in the writer community who believe that their way is the only way. Not just for them but for everybody. You absolute HAVE to plot your novel. You CAN'T plot your novel or it will be stilted. You MUST write every day, no matter what. You SHOULDN'T write if you really don't feel up to it.

For me, there are few rules that can be applied universally in writing. But recently, I've been thinking about one...

I've  done and won Nanowrimo every year since 2008. I owe a lot to Nano. I completed my 1st first draft in Nano. And my 2nd. And my 3rd. And I'm hoping to complete my 4th by the middle of next week. In addition to which, I "became a writer" because of Nano. I've always written, and I've always had the "I may write a novel some day" spirit. But only after Nano, did I make the decision that I was going to produce books.

Also, I kind of owe this blog to nano. It was during Nano that someone pointed me to Nathan Bransford's blog. That lead me to Natalie and Marsha. And as I ran around the blogosphere commenting and interacting, I felt like I needed a space of my own. At the time, I had a Japan blog, a philosophy blog and a weight loss blog, but I needed a space where my writer friends would want to come. And so Points of Claire-ification happened.

Even though I love Nano, some time after last Nano, I realised that if I was to be a serious writer, I couldn't very well turn out first drafts only in November. So I made a couple (unsuccessful) attempts at novelling early this year. I'm working on it. Add to that the fact that Nano is only for first drafts. I mean there is an Edit month as well, but I believe that's in December, when I'm out of energy from Nano, and trying to sew back together my shambles of a social life. Plus editing productivity is a lot harder to measure.

And every year, Nano gets worse for me. My first year, I wrote pretty consistently clocking the required 1667 words almost every day. The second year, I took a week hiatus, and had to play catchup. Last year I wrote 30,000 words in the final week. This year's Nano has been painful. I started the book I planned to write, an tsunami-earthquake YA, and I just couldn't get it to stick. Then I started another novel, about a girl hell-bent on losing her virginity, and that wasn't working either. Finally, I started the novel I'm working on now- possibly around a week late. Once again, it's the final week, and I've got 30,000 words to go.

Thinking about how much Nano has done for me, and how well it used to work, I wonder how some writers can swear one path is the best for everyone. I'm just one writer, and the path that used to be perfect for me, is now barely semi-okay.

There are very few universal rules in writing, but one of them is this:

Take the path that works for you.

And, if that path stops working, find a new one.

十人十色

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You Pick the Agent- A la Mary Kole

There's something aspiring authors often forget in the agent search. You're the client, and technically the agent works for you. I'm not saying that to go on some kind of a power trip. It's just that because of the huge imbalance between the number of aspiring writers and the number of literary agents and because of the fact that you have to go through an audition, the agent-author relationship often looks skewed towards the agent. At least from the outside looking in.

Any colour - so long as it's black (Henry Ford)

Skewing the author-agent relationship can result in an "any agent will do" mentality. The truth is any agent will not do. An agent who reps only crime and horror will not work for your YA romance.And being happy with any agent is how people get tricked by disreputable people posing as agents.

The Mary Kole connection

In her presentation, "Slushpile Secrets," Ms Kole touched on the process of choosing an agent. But even before I arrived, the Agent Day reminded me that it's not just "any agent". Meeting Ms Kole was an amazing experience for me, but I know I will probably never query her. Why? Because I think I may write novels for adults at some point. And Ms. Kole doesn't reps adult.

If my query list was made up of "agents of awesome" as opposed to agents who are a good fit, then it would have all the agents who have amazing blog and twitter presences: Mary Kole, Janet Reid, Nathan Bransford (even though he's no longer an agent- he's that awesome). None of these are actually a fit.

Eenie meenie

So what should you consider when thinking about who to query?

1. Look inside yourself.

What genre do you write? What tone do you write with? Who's your audience? Do you have any desire to write something different at any point? The key to making a match is knowing who you are as a writer.


2. What do you need?

Would you appreciate someone who's very editorial? Should your agent call you for a birthday? Do you prefer all online correspondance, or would you like a phone call once in a while? What help do you need, if any building your career? Big agency? New York (/London)?


3. Keep your eyes open


Think of this as a passive sort of research. It's simple. Make notes every time a potential agent crosses your path. If you're hanging out at WriteOnCon, and there's an agent on a panel that reps what you write, but you've never heard of him/her, make a note. If you read a book, and it's absolutely awesome, and you think "when my book grows up, it's going to be just like this one," make a note.

4. Research and compare

It's relatively easy -especially in the case of US agents- to find lists of exactly what agents are looking for. But huge genres are not the only things to consider. Just because an agent reps paranormal doesn't mean your paranormal is right for them. Just because your book fits with that agent, doesn't mean your styles will mesh.

You should match agents up to all the things you considered in sections 1 and 2. It's okay if an agent misses on a few - compromise is a part of life- but you may want to rethink querying someone who only lands in the same place for a single category. Finding out a lot of these things will take some effort. Connecting with agents and/or their clients on social media, attending conferences or workshops they give, using agent-finding resources on websites and in books,  reading their clients' work, etc.

It's a long process looking at all this information, so I recommend that you start before you're ready to query. Keep a book or computer file with agent names. Record if they're a "perfect match", what things don't gel with you, what agencies they work with, and anything else that jumps out at you. At this stage you really don't need to think about submission requirements unless they are going to be restrictive, like mailing a printed manuscript across the world, might be problematic.


5. We're all in this together
(Any day I get to quote HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is a good day. Just sayin. )

At the end of the day, remember this is a partnership. You do have to "work for" your agent. You will submit things to her. He may push you so hard you think you'll break. She may give you back editorial notes with so much red ink you'll feed like you've bled all over them.

BUT

They will (or should) do it for your sake.  All those things and many more.

Pick an agent that works for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The trouble with alarm clocks

When I was little, my parents woke me up. It was a bad thing and a good thing. A bad thing because if I didn't when called it would often devolve into getting poked and prodded. But a very fortunate thing because I always woke up.

As an adult, I beacame responsible for waking myself up and starting using alarms. This was when I discovered a weird fact about myself. An alarm will only work for so long. When I hear a sound long enough, I stop noticing it. After a while of the same alarm, I stop waking up.

There were 2 solutions I could think of. I could find a sound so annoying or startling that it would continue to wake me up. I tried that for a while. I woke up. But I'd be in a bad mood half the morning. The second solution was to keep changing alarm tone. These days I use my cellphone, and I change the song the alarm plays every few months.

My whole life is like this. I can stick with something for a while, although it drives me crazy. But in time, I need to reach for a new something.  Nothing is forever in my world. That's why I switch jobs the way I do. Why I love travelling and living in other countries. Why my dream changes with the wind direction.

Sometimes I love the way that this allows me to live outside the box. Other days, I despise the way it means being a "Jack of all trades, master of none." That, I guess, is the trouble with alarm clocks.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caribbean Context - What is it?

Talking about the differences between the US and the rest of the world got me to thinking about own little neck of the woods. The Caribbean.

What exactly is the Caribbean?

If you're not from the Caribbean, I'm sure you have a relatively defined answer. One that probably involves lots of islands and sparkling blue sea and maybe a coconut tree or two. But for Caribbean people the answer is a lot more complicated than that.

Islands in the Caribbean
Not all of the Caribbean is islands, and not all of it is in the Caribbean Sea. (Yay for misnomers!) For example, the Caribbean coasts of Colombia and Venezuela consider themselves a part of the Caribbean. And Barbados, my island, is not actually in the Caribbean Sea. The island chain seperates the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. That island way out to the right (east) that looks like it's too cool for school? That would be Barbados, entirely surrounded Atlantic Ocean. Of course this gives us the random distinction of being the first "major" port after you sail west from Africa. Doesn't matter now, but it mattered a heck of a lot in slave days.


The most interesting has got to be Guyana, which is neither an island or in the Caribbean Sea. I think it only identifies with us because it's the only English-speaking country in South America. That brings us to another important factor...

Language
There really aren't words to describe how language seperates the Caribbean. The only other place where so many "major world laguages" are spoken by different countries is Europe, and while Europe may have it's seperatist moments, they are nothing compared to the Caribbean. They are islands which flat out DISAPPEAR from maps. San Andres is a Colombian island southeast of Jamaica. It doesn't exist on this map. I'll give Jack his jacket and admit that San Andres is only 26 km square, but St Barts is only 21 km sq and is pictured. (Caveat: St. Barts is also not an English speaking island, but Dutch. I'm guessing it's pictured because it's actually in the chain.)

Additionally, it's a pain in the butt to get to islands which speak a different language. Barbados is a hub. I can fly direct to any of the English-speaking islands, but heaven forbid I want to get to get to Martinique- it's a puddle-jumping nightmare. Let's not even get started on those Colombian islands. Barbados - Venezuela/Miami - Bogota - San Andres/Providencia/Santa Cantalina. Even if we knew they existed, there's no way in hell we were going.

This language barrier apparently also works in reverse. When I was in Colombia, I always had to show people where Barbados was on a map. Then they'd be shocked and exclaim, "It's so close!" Seems Colombian maps don't picture some of the islands either.

Mother country
This also ties in with language. If a person in mainland France says they're going ot the Caribbean, they mean Martinique, Guadeloupe, or Saint Martin. If a Dutch person says it, they mean Sint Maarten, Saba, St Barts, St Eustacius, or the ABC islands.

Caricom

Caricom stands for "CARibbean COMmunity". It started back in 1973,  which wasn't that long after the founding nations gained independence. It (along with CSME- Caribbean Single Market and Economy) work mostly like the European Union. The major theory behind it, is that we are itty-bitty teeny-weeny yellow polkadot islands, and we're not going to get very far on our own. I don't know how sucessful we are at acheiving the goals of Caricom. There is a lot of time spent grumbling over who's in charge and which territory is getting the short end of the stick.Anyhow...

Most of the time when I say Caribbean, I mean the member states of Caricom.

Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas [Sometimes not. Bahamas acts more American than Caribbean most days.]
Barbados
Belize [Sometimes not. Being in Central America, there isn't that much actual interaction with Belizeans.]
Dominica
Grenada
Guyana
Haiti
Jamaica
Montseratt [Sometimes not. Still a British colony]
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Suriname
Trinidad and Tobago

Apart from Caricom, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Martinique,  and Sint Maarten/Saint Martin are often included when I talk about the Caribbean.

And now a random video from "TODAY" where they visit Barbados. He only makes one mistake (the bit about carnival - Crop Over IS our carnival). The hotel he's at is the highest-end hotel you can stay at. As in Tiger Woods got married there - trust me you can not afford it. (If you can, feel free to donate to a starving writer - me!) But the hospitality is lengendary everywhere.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reading by Design

Correction: In last week's post about writing foreign settings, I said the presenter Ann Slater was part Nepalese, she's actually part Tibetan. Sorry Ann!

A couple weeks ago, the YA highway's Field Trip Friday pointed me to a post from a writer who writes LGBTQ characters. She admitted looking back over the books she's read recently and and noticing that not many of them had a LGBTQ MC. A similar thing happened to me at the beginning of the year, when I discovered The Colorful Chick Lit  challenge. The basic requirements were to read between 4 and 12 chick lit books with MCs who were person of colour, ie not white. I'm not a big chick litter, but when I found the group, I realised that even though I had read at least 50 books last year, I could count the number of non-white MCs on one hand. That wouldn't really do, especially since I've never written a white MC.

How it happens

It's really easy as an avid reader surrounded by avid reader friends to just read the recommendations you get from them. And when your as active in the writers' online network as I am, it's almost a full time job just reading the books your friends wrote. It's quite possible to fill your days with fantastic books, but never touch on topics that are important to you.

We fight together
(That's the name of a recent theme song from one of my fave anime.)

So how do we combat this issue. It's simple really. Decide what kind of books you need to read, and how often you can commit to them. So far this year, I've read 11 books with non-white MC's. Two years ago I discovered TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and I decided to embark on a mission to read the classics that I've never read. I've only read 3 this year, and I'm currently reading Wizard of Oz in between everything else.

12 books is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. But it's still 12 that I would not have read if I had not made a conscious decision to do so.

What to look for

I'm reading :minority MC's and classics, but there are lots of other things you might want to choose from. Like Robin Talley, the author I mentioned earlier, you might want to read more characters like your MC. You may want to read more books in the genre you write, or in genres that make brief appearances in your narrative. You may want to read authors that are really strong in elements of writing where you are weak. The plotting in Inheritance, the final instalment of Eragon, taught me so much (and makes me want to hide myself from every keyboard and pencil so that I might never again be tempted to put down a story).

While reading

It's fine to read passively, and just enjoy the book. But you might want to read a book every once in a while like you would a text book. Think about what works well, and what doesn't. Look at the plot, characters, setting, theme, quotable quotes, anything you can think of. You can make notes, or just soak up the lessons.


There's nothing that says you HAVE TO read by design, but as an author, you've got so much to gain from it.

Finally, to Asiamorela, an apology.

For a "wordsmith," I'm really awful at conveying what I mean. In Tuesday's post, I was not saying that places outside the US have monocultures. I can't believe that I wrote in a way that that meaning could be construed, after all I'm from a little island that's often stereotyped. And I've been all over the world, so I know the diversity. And I live in Japan, which has got to one of the most stereotyped countries by Western people.

Rather, my point was three-fold. Firstly, despite the rich, developed cultures, there seem to be more unifying threads in many other countries than in the US. You'd be hard-pressed to find many similarities between a New Yorker and a wannabe starlet in LA. But in the sprawling Caribbean, made up of so many nationalities, the Barbadians in the southeast have a crap ton in common with the Jamaicans in the northwest.

Secondly, people outside the countries do often point to certain things and say, that is French, that is Spanish. Whether or not everyone in France eats croissants, they're considered a French thing. I don't know if there's an American equivalent. For example, you might say that the hamburger is American, but most people don't think of America when they eat it. People almost invariably think of Japan when they eat sushi.

Also, America's a baby compared to Asia and Europe. Living together for thousands of years is immensely different from a few hundred.

Sorry for not conveying my meaning better. .

PS, Dianne, I was trying to be nice. I see the same thing in Japan. Everyone here is convinced Hawaii is it's own country. But at least they have the excuse that noone else in the world speaks their language.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why the US may not be ideal for international writers

 The third thing I mentioned learning from the SCBWI Tokyo event is that the UK may be a better fit for me. Put differently, it's more that the US is probably a bad fit.

One of the writers in attendance, a Kiwi I believe, asked about books with international settings (and presumably also international characters). Ms Kole said they tended to be a harder sell, and that they had to have a reason to be set overseas. My initial thought was to rebel against what she was saying. I'm Barbadian. What more reason do I need than that for setting a story in Barbados? But then I tried to calm down and think of what I know about the US. And not just in book terms.

I lived in the US for 2 years. I've been to 17 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. In the past 3 1/2 years I've lived nextdoor to 5 different Americans. I think I know more about America than the average international Joe. Heck, there's a possibility I know more about America than the average American Joe - lol - but I won't push that claim.

Here are some theories as to why the US might not be looking for international stories. 

So many stories

What is American? It's easy to point at certain foods or things and say that is French or Italian or Japanese or Indian. Some countries in Asia and Europe (Italy for example) are technically younger than the US, but they've been developing their culture for thousands of years, and it's resulted in great similarities even over vast land areas like China and Russia.

In the US though, the majority of the population (or their ancestors) came over from an already developed culture. They retained much of that culture. Through hundreds of years, these cultures become more and more watered down, but they still exist.

The US doesn't need to go to Taiwan for Taiwanese stories. There are lots of Taiwanese Americans. 


50 countries

I'm not generally very politically minded, but even I know that when you look at the way states operate, it's much more like how whole countries operate in the rest of the world. Take for example driving laws. Many of the "big countries" like England have treaties with Japan so that foreigners living here just sign a few pieces of paper to obtain a Japanese drivers' license. Americans can't do that. The reason I've heard is that each state makes it own driving rules and driving tests, so there is no standard of what an American driving licence really is, so the Japanese can't evaluate it.

Because the states are so different from one another, not just politically, but geographically, culturally, racially, etc, there is a tremendous variety of stories available in the US.

International centrestage

The US is at the centre of the international stage in many fields, but possibly none more so than entertainment. The most well-known movies are Hollywood productions,and most of the famous singers, authors, etc, are American. One repercussion in story world is that American stories ARE international stories, because the whole world now knows that culture. And if the whole world is interested in America, why should America be interested in anyone else? Popularity is almost never a two way street.

Sheer numbers

There is a ridiculous number of authors in the US - a number which multiplies hundred- maybe thousand-fold when you consider aspiring authors. With all of those stories vying for attention, there is less space for those who're not from within the US, especially when they're telling unfamiliar tales of unfamiliar places with unfamiliar characters.

Independence

From the very way the US was formed, certain rights and concepts became engrained. One of them was the concept that the US could and should always stand on it's own two feet. It shouldn't need to take in anything from anywhere else. It results in a fierce American pride that often causes other countries to hate America. (I'm just telling the truth. Don't shoot the messenger.)

As Stephanie Perkins' points out in ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, there are way fewer works translated into English than is the case with other languages. There are lots of reasons for this, but I think it's partly to do with the US reluctance for other stories, or the branding of external settings as "artsy" or "not mainstream" or whatever else.


I'm not saying that any of these things is in and of itself a bad thing. Nor am I angry at the US for doing them. (Although I still hate to hear "offer only available in the US.") The US - and anywhere else - is well within their rights to only care about their own people. It's just something that makes it a little harder for me and people in a similar situation. I even thought about making my stories more American-friendly. For many reasons, I doubt I will. But that's a story for another day.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes you won't make sense

My brother's birthday is in November. Which means it's kind of the one month of the year I can't neatly avoid conversation with him. (I talk to him in December too, but one of us is always home and one isn't, so that conversation is usually "hi" and hand the phone back to Mummy. Somehow we've avoided being in the same country at the same time for 4 of 5 years now.

Why should I want to avoid my little brother, my only sibling? Because we are so different that if we didn't both look ridiculous like our parents I'd swear one of us had been swapped at birth. Probs him, I'm a lot like Daddy. lol.

My brother is an engineer. He makes complex-sounding technology for Intel. I'm pretty good at sciences but it bores the wits out of me. I'm a linguist and my brother has zero interest in foreign languages. I love travelling. If I have my way, I'll be swapping countries every few years until I'm too decrepit to do it anymore. My brother emigrated from Barbados. But only to the place where our grandfather and his family lived. And he's settled right in and is never going anywhere else. I'm a dreamer. My brother is nothing if not practical. I see something I buy it. My brother is the kind of guy that could rationalise not buying toilet paper. ( He will argue he's not cheap though.)

I told my brother I'm thinking of getting a Mac. I'm writing this post on my Sony Vaio (Monfret), which is my main computer. I also have a Onkyo netbook (Junpei), which is primarily for travelling. It's small and light, but has the memory and speed of a 900 year old woman. For Brother dearest, aka Scrooge, there is no possible reason anyone not working in computers should need 3 of them. Heck, he works in computers and only uses two. And that's only because he's assigned one for work.

He asked why I'd need a Mac. I told him that I wanted a seperate computer just for writing. That way, I keep all the other crap off it. And when I turn on that computer, I'm writing. I'm not going on the internet. I'm not watching vids. I'm not tweeting. If I'm home, Monfret will probably be serving a support role, just in case I need to do anything of those things. If me and the Mac are out, I'll just do without until I can get to another computer.

Why does it HAVE to be a Mac? It doesn't have to. But it would make the move to Scrivener (the Mac word processor that's very talked about in my writer circles) easy. And back up seems to take care of itself better. And it has a lower crash rate than many other comps.Although, as my bro pointed out, not the lowest. And frankly, 3 portable Windows computers makes even less sense than 2 windows comps and a Mac.

If having the Mac will make writing easier, and lessen distractions, then it's worth it. Writing comes second only to loved ones. And sometimes, not even to them. So I'm willing to do whatever I can to make it happen.

The convo with my bro, and the follow-up email with a link to a new laptop recommendation (not a Mac) reminded me of something I've known for a long time. Sometimes we don't make sense to the people outside our niche population. A non-alcoholic may not understand why an alcoholic friend can't just come to their party and not drink. A fit person might not understand why a friend in a weight loss program can't eat one slice of cake for her birthday.

It's easy to get annoyed or flat-out angry over it, but just remember if we've got different destinations, we should be taking different paths. Don't worry about it. The important people will put up with your quirks and love you anyway. And the un-important people don't matter. If you're not making sense to people outside your field, then you're doing it right.

Does anyone else have close friends or family that "don't get that writing stuff"?How do you handle it?

PS, if important people refuse to put up with your quirks, you can always hide from them in time zones which make it impossible to call other than weekends. When it's 10 pm  in Japan, it's 5 am in the Western edge of North America, where my brother lives.Way convenient. :)


Friday, November 11, 2011

Setsuden

The March 11th Tohoku earthquake was of such a magnitude that they've resurrected a word which seemingly hasn't been used since the Kanto earthquake of 1923. Daishinsai (大震災) means 'big shaking disaster'. I think it's the perfect word.  The disaster was not the shaking itself. I  remember only a few reports of structures which collapsed from the quake itself. The bigger issue in the short run was the accompanying tsunami, and in the long run the radiation from the Fukushima plant. 


One far-reaching side effect of the Fukushima plant being offline is setsuden. Setsuden (節電) is energy conservation. With the Fukushima plant down and another plant damaged (I'm not sure if it's back online yet) the energy production of East Japan has taken a serious hit. And West Japan uses a different frequency of electricity so we can't share without converting it. 


The entire of East Japan has been on setsuden since March to avoid spontaneous blackouts. Sometimes it's like the whole world's gone dim. Most government offices have taken out half their lights. Some elevators and escalators are turned off. Stores don't leave their signs on overnight. 


But I kind of wonder how long you can keep it up. I mean it doesn't take that much to not use lights. But one has to wonder if the powers-that-be are just going to dig a giant graveyard for all the escalators and elevators. There doesn't seem to be that much effort to find a short term solution. 


And winter is coming. This country uses a lot more fuels in winter than electricity, but the average kerosene heater still uses electricity. How will the grid hold up when we're all trying to stay warm at the same time? 


On the flip side, it makes me wonder. East Japan is getting by on some fraction of the energy it used before. Which makes me think of all the things that we really didn't need to be wasting electricity on in the first place. Like the flashing lights in the drink machines. They used to flash all day, presumably as a marketing technique to draw your eye to the machine. Since setsuden, most of the machines only light up when someone is purchasing something. 


I hope the end of setsuden comes soon. I hate worrying constantly about which will be the day it's too much and the power goes off. In all likelihood it will be a day when it -20C in my house. But I hope that when we return to "normal", that we won't stop the energy conservation methods we've picked up along the way.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You already know - Dialect - A la Mary Kole

The story I was working on before I started trying to polish up my critique entry for the Mary Kole event is called LIE DOWN OR PASS. It's been on hold since then, but I fully intend to get back to it after nano. Torment me if I don't.

I don't know if it's "purpose-work" as we say at home, but I try something new every WIP. LDOP is my 6th novel attempt. (I'm ignoring all the ones which didn't make it past 5,000 words.) I've heard a million people say in a million ways, that you should let go in your first draft. I've always tried to keep editing to a minimum, but I've reined in my Barbadian-ness. This time around I decided to write the story exactly as if I was telling it to a fellow Bajan. I would think about understandability for foreign audiences later.

Then the Mary Kole opp came up. I could have a one-on-one critique, a first page critique and a query critique. I decided to go for all 3, but I thought it would be a waste if I sent the first 150 words of my 2500 one-on-one as my first page. So I decided to send the most recent thing I'd worked on.

I do not know what I was smoking.

As I said, I know I need to tone down the dialect to work for international audiences. And I fully plan to, before I ever offer that book up to the Query Powers That Be. If I had not been convinced of the need to think about the dialect included and the way it's introduced, Mary Kole's cold read convinced me.

The book starts with a group of teens playing dominoes. In Barbados, dominoes has it's own vocabulary that can be almost indecipherable, even to other Bajans if they don't play dominoes. I watched Mary stumble over every other word. Even where the words were recognisable, they sometimes took on a different meaning. She couldn't comment other than to laugh. I couldn't do much other than laugh with her and at myself.

Most people don't dive in to a hot spring. They stick in a toe. Then the sit on the edge. Then they sit on the ledge so they water comes up to their chests. Then they ease right down to their shoulders. That's how dialect should be, especially if it's a dialect that's completely unfamiliar. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to baby your reader. Let the words explain themselves if they can. And don't add your detail too slowly. A few drops sprinkled in at the beginning, with progressively more, until by the end, the book has gone local. But not in the scary incomprehensible sort of way - it's still acting like there's company around.

The same is true of any world details that are unfamiliar. Yesterday we touched on multicultural settings, but the concern also arises in speculative fiction where you have to introduce your reader to the world.The trick, I think is to always keep the reader in their depth, but never make them feel like they're in the kiddie pool.

Do you write in dialect or use niche slang? How do you encorporate it?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

JWC Recap: Setting your story in a foreign country

At the Japan Writers Conference, Ann Tashi Slater did a presentation called "Setting you story in a foreign country( and a few thoughts on getting it published)." I presented on writing multicultural YA, so I was interested to see where we converged and where our opinions were different.

One of the things I didn't concentrate on in my presentation (50 minutes is not really that long) that Ann  highlighted was research. Research is important in any novel where you're not writing what you know. No matter how big or small the unknown factor is.

She used a Michael Ondaatje interview by William Dafoe as an opener.

WD  How does research lead to invention and where does it get in the way of invention?

MO That’s still a very difficult thing to know. You can always f[redacted] up by having too much research. You can paint yourself into a corner by finding out everything about 1926. Or you can hear someone on a bus say something that happened to somebody, and that’s enough to keep you going for 50 pages. It’s difficult to know what’s right and wrong. The kind of research I do, as a result, is quite intentionally random.
In my opinion, one of the perks of random research is that you get to find out things off the beaten track. Like if you look up Shania Twain on youtube, your first dozen hits are probably all her superhits. But if you start at one of those superhits and click around in the sidebar, you might end up at a lesser-known song, like UP, which you would never have found using a typical research method.

Ann pointed out the research methods she used in her novel, set in Darjeeling - she's part Tibetan. Her grandmother was still living in Darjeeling. She was getting older every day, and Ann said she knew a day would come when she wouldn't be there any more. So she spent some time there and did some interviews. She also went through photographs, letters, and diaries - things you may not have much access to if you don't have a family in. And she read lots of books which helped her focus her trip.

As for the nuts and bolts of setting in a foreign country, it's also important to integrate story and setting. You don't want to write every detail you know. That was something that I warned against in my presentation too. You risk writing a glorified travel guide if the multicultural elements are too much stronger than all the other story elements. Filter details through the pov and plot. Setting should influence the story, but it shouldn't bend it into pretzel shapes.

Ann also pointed out the importance of getting the details right. If you set a story in a Japanese junior high school and then had the kids bring lunch, that would pull me right out of the story. [EDIT: Other than the big cities] there are very few places in Japan where students don't get school lunches up until the end of JHS. Also, let Google be your friend. How you do this is up to you. Maybe you want to stop every time you have a question. Maybe you'll just insert a marker (I use hash tags) and come back to it. But the fact is that it's so easy to get information these days. Time and cost are much less of an issue in working with a foreign setting. Why not take advatange of that?

Is anyone working in a setting which isn't the same as where they live or where their main market lives? How are you doing it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You already know - Plot - A la Mary Kole

Last Monday, I mentioned the Mary Kole Agent Day event that I attended in Tokyo (Yokohoma, Kanagawa if we're being technical). I also mentioned 5 things I learned. Today, I'm talking about thing 2: You probably already know the answer to your question. And there will be follow-up posts on this as well.

I'm not going to get into much about what Ms Kole said in my one-on-one critique. Something about that doesn't feel quite kosher. But there is one thing she said that I feel I can share.

I went into the critique excited. I couldn't wait to find out what THE Mary Kole thought about my work. But then she made a comment and I had to restrain myself from laughing. Not because I thought she was wrong. Or because I'd finally snapped. Because I've got that very same critique at SCBWI creative exchanges. And I make that same critique of my work myself. In fact, I make it so often, that some of you may know my fatal flaw without having ever seen my work. And I don't suppose THE Mary Kole would be worth her sauce if she couldn't pick up on what everybody and their dog has already noticed.

My characters are real. My voice is well-defined (and occasionally overbearing). But even a team made up of Sherlock Holmes, the KGB, the CIA, Angela Landsbury, Scooby Doo, Miss Marple and Encyclopedia Brown couldn't find my plot. Yes, it's that bad.

(My words, not hers, or my SCBWI colleagues'.) 

As she spoke, I just nodded, because I was being a good little critiquee. But I couldn't help thinking, "I came here for this?" Here was this incredible opportunity to present my work and hear from the other side of the desk. One of my critique partners just signed with her agent through a face to face event. And I don't delude myself that I'm anywhere near query stage. You guys know that. It's just that this was a massive opportunity. And I wasted it.

The lesson to be learnt here is that if we sit and contemplate, we may already know where our issues lie.  It would profit us more to fix the things we can fix on our own and to ask for help when neccesary. In critiquing, and of course in life, we should be presenting our best wherever possible. Putting forward a product that in our mind has no flaws.

There's a central tenet of learning (both knowledge and skill acquisition) that many people forget or ignore:

The student has to play an active role. 

We have to take ourselves to a certain level before the teacher/expert/sempai can take us any further.

I know what is wrong with my stories. I know that I need to find a way to fix it. I am going to my best to get that sorted out before I move forward. Anything else is a waste of time. Opportunities are all around, and I don't want to keep throwing them out the window.

Do you know what's wrong in your writing? Have you tried to fix it? Are you past the point that you can do it on your own? Have you tried peer or professional critiquing?

*Sempai is a Japanese word, meaning senior, literally ahead of colleage(s)


Monday, November 7, 2011

Me and my money go Mm-mm-mm

Hey guys! It's Monday, time for another edition of Monday on My Mind. Today on my mind, my relationship with money. I have a horrible relationship with money. But not, I suppose, in the way people normally have horrible relationships with money.

I come from a "doctor-lawyer-bank manager" culture. Put simply, if you have the means to enter one of the high-flying professions it's what you should do. I went to the top school on the island. People automatically expect me to be the top of everything. If I wanted to be a hairdresser, that would be a "waste" because I could do "better".

Thing is I don't care about money. I can't do something I'm not enjoying no matter how much it pays. When I'm not loving life I feel like I'm always 2 seconds from jumping off a bridge. This leads me into the noble pure-hearted territory of only doing things I'm inclined towards.

Unfortunately it also leads me into the territory of not saving a cent. There's always something that I can buy to help me love life. And money sitting in a bank account is nothing but a number on a paper. $100 in the Amazon store is 10 stories that will keep me smiling for at least a month - and if I'm lucky there'll be agem in there that I'll read for years to come.

Weighing the present against the future is also an issue for me. I daydream about the future a lot, but in a fuzzy, abstract way. It's hard for me to do practical things for that fuzzy, abstract future. Like I can save to go to a conference in a year's time, but I can't just save for a rainy day.

It can be stressful, living the way I do. I work for decent money. But there are some months where I cut it pretty close. There have been a few months where ramen was the food of choice. I needed to do something, and in order to squeeze it out of that month's paycheck, I had to cut all the corners.  Heaven forbid I ever have to do anything that will involve more than 1 month's pay.

I stress myself a lot more than I need to over money. I can stress over money that I won't need from years. You'd think that would make me save it. You'd be wrong. Sometimes I wish I could live in a world that didn't involve money. A world where I could happily go to work and my employer or someone else would take care of the bills, and all I'd have to do is show up.

There are a few good side effects of my relationship with money. Not being attached to it, I'm more likely to give it away. If a friend is in need, and I have it, and it's not doing anything, then I don't mind giving it away. (I'm just being honest here, but even saying that feels a bit boastful.) I'm not materialistic.I focus more on the doing than the having. I don't assign values to myself or others based on money. I don't have loans, because I hate money hanging over my head, and generally prefer not to have something, than to have to think constantly about how to pay someone back.

Still, I know I need to whip my money relationship into shape. At this rate, the only way I'll ever own a house is to win the lottery. Although, if we're being honest (and we always are here at POC), I'd rather own a ship and travel the world.

How about you? How are you with money?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Almost English

Look at my babies, writing in English. I didn't help any of them. I didn't even know they were doing this. (You'd think someone would have told me, seeing as I'm in this country to assist with ENGLISH, but oh well. Happens more often that you'd think.)


The 2nd years wrote about their dreams. I love this one. Although this kid never takes charge of anything and I really can't see him even trying for town council, but here's to hoping!


We don't teach cursive at school, but all the best English students use it. This kid is next year's Student Body President. They start the student body year in the middle of the school year, so that when high school entrance exams roll around, final year students can concentrate on them.


I love when my kiddies go off the beaten path. Especially here where the beaten path is so important. 
 Made. of. Win.



 Another top student. I think they learn the cursive at cram school.

This girl learned the cursive from her mother. She did a speech about becoming a cancer researcher. You have no idea how depressing it is to listen to the story of how her grandfather dying of cancer changed her life for weeks, and weeks, and weeks.

The 3rd years wrote poems. I forget the name of this form. Japanese has a zillion different types of poem.


I have one kid who is absolutely addiction to the football/soccer player, Messi (Messhi in Japanese). It's random because noone pays any attention to soccer here, other than cheering Zac Japan and Nadeshiko Japan (boys and girls nat. teams) at World Cup time.


 If you're every in Japan in summer. 40 degrees Celcius, or about 100F, with 80-90% humidity, then you get this. I'm almost glad to spend half the year frozen. Almost.


I love the dreamers.
 Yum! Made me hungry.
This is the best poem in the English language by a Japanese person in the history of the world. And I really believe it coming from this kid, too. lol.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Give it time

I'm in Japan on a programme called JET- Japan Exchange and Teaching. The basic concept is this: they bring foreigners from all over the world to teach their native languages or promote international relations or assist with sports. We come here and share our cultures and eventually go home and take Japanese culture with us.

Because one of the objectives is for us to go home, there's a maximum time you can be on the programme. 5 years. This is my 4th. Which is why I'm always on about my next move these days. But all of that is background. Today , I'm thinking about re-contracting. Every year around this time we receive recontracting papers. It seems different prefectures/ cities will require different attachments to the recontracting papers, but for me it's really simple. Two statements, essentially "I'm staying" and "I'm going" and I just tick the relevant box.

Every year, no matter my thoughts and feelings, it's hard to put that little tick mark on the paper. To the point where one year I handed it in the day (in February) it was due. Even though I'd decided before I got the papers that I was staying. One consideration that keeps me ticking "stay" year after year, is that I feel there's more and better to come. And I haven't been wrong yet.

1st year

My first year was a whirlwind. I was on the other side of the world in a country where (miraculously) I couldn't make myself understood. Remember I spoke 4 languages then. Being incomprehensible is right up there with growing a second nose in my mind. Also, Japanese people are some of the most polite people you'll every meet. And they're really warm. Up to a point. There's a threshhold that you can't cross until you're a part of the group. And I wasn't going to acheive that status in a year.

Add the fact that this was my Asian debut. I'm from a  country on the other side of the world, right at the bottom of the list of developed nations. There was no way I was getting over here without the free ticket provided by my contracting organisation and the JET programme. And being a traveloholic, I couldn't resist discoverin Asia. I  found myself in 9 countries in 2009- mostly during my 1st JET year, and extending into my 2nd. 

I'm totally going to pretend that my devastation over my crumbled relationship had nothing to do with it. And you can pretend to believe me. :)

2nd year

I started discovering foreign friends further afield- up to a couple hours North and South, and spent pretty much every weekend "jetsetting" to other prefectures. My neighbour at the time, P,   joked that I didn't actually "live" in Iwate on weekends.

The English conversation class my previous neighbour, C, had started late in our first year got into full swing, and we built a bank of acquaintances in town, and in the neighbouring city. But, as P loved to say, "Everyone in Japan is friendly, but noone's your friend." It's weird to have these people that you can go out and hang with, but noone to just call and chit chat when you're bored.

3rd year

I decided to get something new from the programme by running for AJET. It's basically like student council but for JETs. I had sme amazing opportunities meeting with the bigwigs at CLAIR (yes the organisation that administers JET is a synonym with my name- it makes for some interesting jokes - Oh, Claire's paying?) , and officials from the misitries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Communication and Education.

Things really changed at school towards the end of this year as well. Japanese companies and government departments make transfers every year. Since the school year starts in April, I've seen 4 sets of transfers. Which means I've been working for my Board of Education and at my schools longer than most of the other staff. Hierarchy is really important here. And even though I technically will always have the same rank as when I came, I'm a sempai in lots of ways. My schools include me in everything. Now, when memos go around the school, they always leave one on my desk- before they'd skip over me. They invite me to all the after-parties. When they pass things around that all the staff have to stamp that they've seen it, there's a space for my stamp now. They even invited me to come cut the lawn with the PTA this year. Never have I been so glad to be allergic to cut grass. Ready-made excuse. lol.

Of course the highlight (or lowlight) of my 3rd year was the earthquake-tsunami. You can't not bond with people after you live through something like that together. It's not as many as some people claim - especially since the quake happened at the end of the school year and some people's contracts were up anyhow - but some foreigners did leave Japan afterwards. I don't blame them. Until you've felt the Earth shake for 5 minutes, and once every 5 to 15 minutes for the next 2 days, you don't have a clue what it's like. But I think Japanese people respect the ones who stayed through it. Especially here in Iwate, one of the 3 prefectures which was hardest hit and which is still recovering.

4th year

My 4th year started in August, but already the changes are wonderful. People in my town are so much friendlier to me. They no longer ask how much longer I'm staying, they just come over and start talking. Every time I go somewhere, there's a kid screaming, "Ah! Kurea-Sensei da!" (Look! It' Claire Sensei!) During the town festival, I was right there mingling with my neighbourhood group, like I'd always been there.In my town, I'm almost a "regular person". You have no idea how big that is as a foreigner.

Another big thing that happened this year, is that I went to one of my teacher's house. Japanese people don't have friends over. They'll prefer to meet up at a neighbourhood restaurant or park or the library. So I've never been to anyone's house other than my host family. You have to be really "close" to go to people's houses.

2 weeks ago, I started hanging with the "reggae crew". I've always known where the reggae bar was in the city next door, but my predecessor had some bad experience there. He never went into depth about what happened, but I've just never gone because of it. And then a Jamaican friend took me, and I exchanged phone emails with a girl that was there. (Somehow the fat chicks always gravitate towards me- like there's a universal Fat Chicks Unite campaign- it happened again today. I suppose it must be hard to be fat in a country with one of the world's highest anorexia rates. ) She invited me to an event at the bar, and then last weekend we all went out- the Master (owner of the bar), a DJ guy, and the 5 of us girls- to an event with DJs from Jamaica. It was great., sitting around the table in a breakfast restaurant chattering at 5 am. It's one of the "friendliest" moments I've had with Japanese people.

And then there was today. I've lived in this prefecture since August 2008, and I'd only met one Spanish speaker. He used to be my best friend in Japan. The only reason he's not is because he moved back to Bolivia. I go to a meeting today, for an internationl event we're having. And I meet 5 Spanish speakers. I spoke more Spanish today than Japanese or English. It's crazy to me, because they're all long-timers and they've all been here the entire time I have. One even lives on my train route. And I have never so much as seen a single one of them.

Time

I feel  a little like Pocahontas. Every time I think I'm sure of something, something new appears, and I just can't wait to see what's waiting just around the riverbend. I don't think I can really say I've been truly unhappy here. Hard to tell being bipolar and all. But it just keeps getting better and better. Looking back, if I'd left at y time, I would never have experienced z.

So much of life is like that too. Even when you're not aiming for something. Who's to say that there wasn't something really awesome in front of you, 2 seconds after the point where you turned around and went home. I guess you can't really worry about that. If you did you'd be second guessing every single decisions you had to make. Kinda like I do.

I guess when the issue of time really comes into play, is in the instances where you have a goal. When you're waiting for things to go your way, and doing your absolute best to get there, and sometimes, it feels like you won't ever get there. There's a point when giving up starts to make more sense than going on.And you personally have to weight the decision for yourself. I just ask that you remember that you could be right on the brink. If you were to get what you want today, would everything you've gone through up to now be worth it? If you think the answer's yes, then maybe you should keep at it. 

5th year

I'm 99% sure I'm going to take the 5th year if it's offered. I have no idea what it will bring. I can only hope that it's as great as the first 4.

"Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten." UNWRITTEN, sung by Natasha Bedingfield.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

JWC recap: Synaesthesia

Another one of the presentations at the recent Japan Writers Conference was  “‘A noir, E blanc’: How Synaesthesia can Work for You as a Writer” by Li Jiang. It was a craft workshop, so I don't really think it would be interesting to just tell you what we did. Rather, I'd like to talk about the concept behind the presentation.

Just in case you didn't know (and I didn't) synaesthesia is basically when a sensory detail of one sort invokes sensory detail of another sort. In the French poem, "A Noir, E blanc" used in the title of the workshop, the writer is talking about the vowels invoking colours. In other cases visual details can invoke auditory reactions, or vice versa. And inanimate details like the days of the week can take on personalities. Technically synaesthesia is an involuntary reaction (seen in 1 out of 23 persons), but Li Jiang asked us to harness the concept by listening to pieces or looking at pictures and freewriting the stories that came to us.

Knowing how many of my writer friends listen to music as they write, and who  prefer a certain song when they're writing certain scenes, I wonder if most writers - or even most artists- aren't synaesthetes. The fact that psychadelic drugs can also induce synaesthesia and knowing the connection between artists and drugs, also strengthens this belief.

But synaesthesia isn't a given for all of us. I have zero response to many visual stimuli. Stuff fades into the background for me. It's why I love bright colours. Other colours just disappear. And music, while it will elicit emotion, doesn't drive me to think of specific stories.

Using the pieces that Li Jiang presented (visual art and music) and writing short stories off them was a challenge for me. I don't think mine were as good as some of the other people who presented theirs. Maybe they'd get better if I practised opening those sensory pathways more often. I think synaesthesia can be a useful tool for any writer. By 'forcing' synaesthesia, an artist is able to access details, stories, characters that they couldn't before. And with practise, I suppose, you could look at a scene, and know a character's entire life story, their motivations, and their flaws.

Wait a minute, I already create instantaneous stories for people on the street, and instantaneously see things in the now triggering huge catastrophic events in the future. I used to think it was some sort of ESP, but the predictions never pan out.

Maybe I am a synaesthete after all.

Are any of you synaesthetic? (Now that I know the word, I sort of love it.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Social Media Difference- A la Mary Kole

Yesterday, I mentioned the social media difference as one of the things I "learned" at the SCBWI Tokyo Mary Kole event. Today, I'll be telling you why.

I left my hotel  way early, since I was totally convinced I would get lost. Of course, I was right. After I'd giving up on going in one direction and turned back to pick another route at the intersection, a taxi drove past. I only saw a blonde head before the taxi stopped. I was pretty sure that this person was going to the same event as me, but I didn't want to stake out the cab, so I toddled along, trying to watch out of the corner of my eye and see which way this person went. Then I saw the Regional Advisor for my SCBWI branch, Holly. She greeted me and the person from the cab, who, it turned out, was Mary Kole. Then she introduced us.

And Ms Kole said, "Oh, Claire from Twitter!"

I'm pretty sure my jaw hit the sidewalk. Then bounced down the hill. Then splashed off the pier. THE Mary Kole knew who I was! Because of Twitter.

Not all of us can afford to go to a conference these days. I'm lucky in that I make a decent salary, and don't have a lot of bills. (And suck at saving and have slightly warped financial priorities.) Once upon a time, a conference would have been the only way to make a connection to write in the "personalisation" section of your query, if you include one.

These days, you can read an agent's blog or follow them on twitter. Many US agents, especially in YA, have some presence in cyberspace. (Unfortunately, it's a lot less common in the UK.) You can read their blogs. You can subscribe to their Twitter feeds. That in and of itself is great. But there's also that slight possibility, that you'll write a blog post that will attract an agent's attention. Or leave a comment on their blog or someone else's that will cement you in their mind. And it's even more likely on Twitter with it's volume restriction and conversational nature.

That's not to say an agent will sign you strictly because they've heard your name before. But we do what we can to stand out. 99.9% of that standing out should really happen in your manuscript. But it can't hurt if a part of the other .1% percent is your awesome social media presence.