mad science

Here’s an ugly thought:  as per the beginning of every new year, IBM recently came up with a list of (5) technological advancements that will be worth watching in 2017.  Along with disease tracking technology and personal x-ray vision (yo quiero mucho) was this:  determining mental illness through language.

As Austin Powers would say, “Yeah baby!”  Roughly one in (15) people worldwide is estimated to have some sort of mental illness, much of which is undiagnosed.  Researchers  think that artificial intelligence may soon be able to parse our speech and writing patterns to figure out which of us could use an occasional Xanax bar.

Which is a fascinating concept; not just as an analytical tool with real-world goodliness, but also to find out if writers truly are, to put it bluntly, ‘nutty in the filbert.’  You know what I mean . . . as authors (especially in the crime genres) how do we come up with all the nasty we write about without wondering if we were dropped on our heads a few times?  All of the eviscerations, amputations, decapitations, blood-splattering, eye-gouging, gunshots, explosions, etcetera?  I remember an interview on Terry Gross’s show Fresh Air where author Ayelet Waldman (wife of Michael Chabon) laughingly mentioned the horrible deaths she imagined upon the various parents at her kids’ soccer matches.  You know you’ve done the same (I certainly have).  Standing in line at the grocery.  At the gas pump.  In the shower.  At office meetings.

And just think about your favorite authors.  You want to analyze Stephen King’s latest?  How ‘bout Kathy Reichs?  Dean Koontz?  Sue Grafton?  I’m willing to bet that one in fifteen ratio starts approaching even odds, right quick.  Flip a quarter; heads, Hilary Mantel is a sweet, elfin personality who makes strawberry scones in her spare time.  Tails, she has a kitten’s head in her purse.

Point being, who cares?  If you think like this, you’re one of us.  You’re not alone.  So put those thoughts to good use and write something.  Make a story out of it.  Or a script.  A novella, or even the big kahuna; a full-fledged novel.  But don’t think for one nanosecond that something’s wrong.  On the contrary:  you’re muy bien.  Keep writing.

Patrick Stuart

Happy 2017!

Hi!  Patrick Stuart here, a.k.a., not that ‘other’ Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame).  As the outgoing president of SICCO for 2016 (and anxiously awaiting the 2017 presidency of our new commander-in-chief, Kristin Crump), I just wanted to welcome you to the site and make an official ‘howdy’ before shifting gears as records keeper-slash-web custodian.  I also wanted to give any newbies an update on who we are, why you should join (if you haven’t already) and let people know what we’ve got planned for the new year.  So to begin:

  • Our name:  SICCO.  How cool is that??!  Saying you’re a member of SICCO (pronounced Sick’-Oh) is like saying you’re a member of Hell’s Angels.  It’s an acronym for Sisters In Crime of Central Ohio, but that’s wordy and pedestrian.  SICCO, however, raises eyebrows.
  • We’re the local affiliate of a national group, i.e., Sisters In Crime.  There’s (56) chapters scattered across North America, so we have a network.  Just like Smith & Wollensky; we’re in several locations and are consistently mouthwatering.
  • Twenty buh.  Yeah, you heard me.  Twenty buh for an annual membership to local, and forty buh for national.  That comes to five buh a meeting (once a month).  Can’t beat that with a stick.
  • I’m a dude.  Although the primary intent of the organization (when it was formed in the mid-eighties) was to support underrepresented female authors, even if you have a Y-chromosome you’re absotively welcome.  Gals still outnumber guys, but despite the name SICCO is non-gender specific.
  • Write in a different genre?  Horror?  Literary?  YA?  Just like to read?  Don’t matter us none . . . if you’re a proponent of the written word, we like you.  As the song says:  “come on in, take off your skin and rattle around in your bones.”
  • Cool features:  from our revamped Facebook page and website (now a little over one year old) to our special events with national experts and speakers, we have become absolutely awesome.  For 2017, we have a special event in September with speaker commitments from (check this out) the federal U.S. Marshals Office, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) forensic dive team, and an agent with the FBI’s Cincinnati field office.  We also have an upcoming visit to the Ohio Fire Marshal’s forensic lab in August (think arson, explosions, etc.), our popular writing critique/workshop in May, and loads of other fantastic events (check out the Monthly Meetings section).  In addition, this year we’re also implementing beta readers for blind critiques of completed manuscripts (for a small additional fee, ask for details).  Because ultimately we want to see you published.  And to do that, we need to offer as many tools as possible.
  • Finally, the ultimate reason to join:  we’re simply enjoyable to hang with.  Just ask us.  Not too big and not too small, i.e., just right.  Whether you’re an MFA grad or enjoy Mickey Spillane novels, are published or struggling to get published, have several completed manuscripts or are just thinking about writing, I have one word:  welcome.  We are an inclusive group of all kinds and backgrounds, ranging from NYT bestselling authors to self-published folks and beginners, all supportive and excited about the craft of writing.  So if you’re looking for a writing group, go ahead and kick the tires.  Take us out for a test drive and attend one or two of our monthly meetings for free, just to get the feel of the road.  And fulfill that New Year’s resolution to put something on paper with other like-minded individuals.  So see you in 2017 . . . keep writing.

How I Became a Famous Novelist

OK, before you read any further . . . this is a satirical novel.  So if you are a serious writer:

  • Do not follow the advice in this book.
  • It’s equal parts hilarious and depressing.
  • The protagonist is, well, kind of a dick.

So anyway, some backstory.  I ran across this book listed among the literary humor favorites from several (actual) authors and thought I’d give it a try.  The premise is one we’ve all considered:  the main character, Pete Tarslaw, is a frustrated writer and the ex-boyfriend of Polly Pawson.  Polly gets engaged and sends out a mass email wedding invite which includes Pete.  The wedding is a year away and Pete, a slacker who makes a living writing fake college admission essays for foreign applicants, decides to become a famous novelist to enact revenge on his ex via jealousy, envy and regret that she broke up with him.

All right, that’s not the part we’ve all considered.  The part we have all considered is how Pete goes about becoming a famous novelist.  He just can’t believe some of the horrible novels making their way to the bestseller lists (you know you’ve done the same).  So he visits some bookstores, reads some reviews and uses a mental cut and paste technique to come up with his own terrible, Frankenstein concoction of mishmashed plot arcs, sappy dialogue and wooden characters which he titles the Tornado Ashes Club (plot spoiler: the title refers to the main character’s grandmother’s quest to throw her lover’s ashes into, wait for it . . . a tornado).  Pete’s nemesis is Preston Brooks, a weathered cowboy author straight from a Williams Sonoma catalog who writes sentimental tearjerkers Pete is convinced are complete balderdash masquerading as literature.  As a result, Pete becomes obsessed with exposing Brooks, and the story basically follows his misguided attempts to exact revenge on everyone he feels is a shallow, one-dimensional fraud.  Which, as it turns out, is really himself.

What’s interesting is the central theme:  that authors can make bank by writing to trends and lucrative audiences, rather than focusing on craft.  We’re now seeing algorithms devised to forecast bestsellers based on empirical data (see links to Wired and The Atlantic below).  Is writing just one more bowling pin in a 7 – 10 split of humanity, waiting to drop to a computerized Brunswick?  Manufacturing, Amazon drones, autonomous driving . . . maybe it’s just the natural evolution of things.  And maybe I’ll just hide under the bed with a bottle of bourbon and a shotgun until the end of times.  Anyway, author Steve Hely has written for the Late Show with David Letterman, American Dad!, 30 Rock and The Office.  He also won Columbus’s very own Thurber Award in 2010.  Out of 4 thumbs up, I give this a 2.5 overall; again, some hilarious parts, but they couldn’t override Pete being a complete tool.  Keep writing.

https://www.wired.com/2016/09/bestseller-code/

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/bestseller-ometer/499256/

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo.  A word that invokes fear, desperation and loathing.  Kind of like taxes.  Politics.  Lutefisk.  And colorectal exam.

That last one was two words, but still.

NaNoWriMo (short for ‘National Novel Writing Month’) is coming up this November. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, NaNoWriMo started in 1999 on a whim by a group of 21 folks in San Francisco who were trying to encourage each other to write.  The goal was to put 50,000 words on paper during the month of November.  They continued the next year and got 140 participants.  So they thought ‘what the hell, why not?’ and continued to 2001.

They got 5000 participants and crashed their website.

Soon, the group was mentioned by such news agencies as the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, NPR, and CBS Evening News.  Fast forward to 2015:  351,489 participants, 40,426 of whom completed their 50,000 word goals.  In a pre-event called Camp NaNoWriMo, held in April and July, there were 57,402 participants from 56 countries, with 1015 libraries, bookstores and community center partners lending a helping hand.  The non-profit group now has an annual operating budget over a million dollars, and some past NaNoWriMo projects include the following:

  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen); NYT bestselling novel (10 million copies sold), made into a movie (2011) and now being adapted for Broadway.
  • The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern); NYT bestselling novel.
  • The Persistence of Memory (Tony Eprile); about the waning days of apartheid in South Africa, praised by several reviews and Nobel-winning author J.M. Coetzee.
  • The Darwin Elevator (Jason Hough); NYT bestselling novel.
  • Cinder (Marissa Meyer); NYT bestselling novel/series.

So guess what SICCO’s doing this November?  You got it; NaNoWriMo.  Which means, guess what you’re doing this November?  Same thing; NaNoWriMo.  What else you got going on?  Dry turkey and tepid conversations with the relatives from Oklahoma City?  Muay-Thai training in anticipation of Black Friday?  Decompressing after 18 months of election year bickering?  Shoot, might as well make it productive . . . join SICCO at a reserved space with the Columbus library system this November (see the Calendar section for times and locations).  Just hang, chill, and do up that novel. Note:  Saturday, 11/19 will be our regular meeting, kinda sorta (we’ll be in the room writing, with coffee and snacks available), but otherwise it’ll be relaxed and comradely.  So stop on in with people of like minds, bring your laptop/typewriter/notebook pad/stone tablet and join us.  And no lutefisk . . . promise.

November Library Meetings

As you may have noticed, this month we aren’t having a normal meeting. Instead, we’ve decided to focus our efforts on helping YOU focus. Throughout the month, in homage to NaNoWriMo, we have times set aside at the Columbus Library/Northern Lights Branch, 4093 Cleveland Avenue. Our first reserved time is tomorrow, November 3rd from 1-5 pm (please note the time change from 9 pm to 5 pm). We will be providing a Keuring with coffee and tea and some sort of light snack.

Our other meeting times:

  • Wednesday, November 9, 1-9 pm
  • Saturday, November 19, 11-6 pm

Although we know the 19th is a Saturday during football season, we scheduled the time so that people could, hopefully, come either before or after the game, since the time has yet to be announced. On that day we are also going to be doing some more in-depth activities such as reading helpful hints from our favorite craft books, having a “word challenge” from 2 pm-4 pm with Prizes of Dubious Value being awarded by our President Patrick Stuart and anything else that may come into our heads between now and then. Drinks and snacks will be provided on this day as well

You don’t have to be participating in NaNoWriMo to join us at the library! Bring any work in progress and a desire to write…that’s all you need

If you have any questions, please contact us either through our Facebook page or our e-mail, siccowriters@gmail.com. We look forward to seeing you at one or all of our scheduled library dates for all or part of the day. Come and go as you please.

Catching An Agent’s Eye from Killer Nashville by Kristin Crump

There are few words that bring such dread to a writer’s heart as the words “query letter”. At least they do to mine. While at Killer Nashville I attended a panel titled “How To Catch An Agent’s Eye”. The panelists were Jill Marr (Sandra Dijkastra Literary Agency), Lucy Carson (The Friedrich Agency), Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates), Sharon Pelletier (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) and Megan Close Zavala (Keller Media).

These women were kind enough to share an hour of their time with us and give us some great advice on writing a query (or pitch) letter. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Do:

  • Research and find the agent that is a good fit for you and the book you’ve written.
  • Look at the agent’s history and see who they represent to get an idea of what they like.
  • Write a letter that is specific to that agent.
  • Spend a lot of time on the pitch section of the letter. Write it until it is as perfect as you can make it. This is your one chance to catch their attention.
  • In the Bio section of the letter, emphasize what makes you unique, mention any writer’s groups you are a part of (this is where being a member of Sisters In Crime comes in), writer’s conferences you’ve been to, awards you’ve been nominated for or won, etc.
  • Be straight forward in your presentation but be interesting too (yeah, easy for them to say!)
  • Know where your novel falls in the marketplace
  • If you meet the agent at a conference, put that IN THE SUBJECT LINE. If they request materials, even better and lead with that (i.e. Requested Materials from Killer Nashville).
  • ALWAYS put something informative in the subject line. Never put just the word “Submission”. It almost guarantees your e-mail/letter will get shoved off to the side and looked at later, if ever. (ex: Submission of a historical mystery set in the 1920’s in a Topeka, Kansas speakeasy). Put what makes your novel different from the crowd.
  • Let agent’s know if it is a multiple submission.
  • FOLLOW THE RULES. However the agent or agency want submissions formatted, do it. It shows a willingness to follow the rules, intelligence and observational skills. If you don’t, the chances are pretty good your query letter is going to get put at the bottom of the pile, or, again, never looked at.

Don’t:

  • Send a form letter that you have sent to dozens of other agents. They can spot those from a mile away and figure, “if he/she can’t take the time to write me a personal query letter, why should I take the time to read said letter or submission”.
  • If you don’t have experience specific to your book, don’t emphasize it.
  • Write what you want to write. Don’t write to trend. Trends are fleeting and chances are by the time your book hits the marketplace, it’s over.
  • You can always cite comparables to your book but don’t only use bestselling authors. If you are going to say your book is a kooky traditional like Janet Evanovich, also uses some mid-list authors such as Gretchen Archer or Jana DeLeon.
  • NEVER say “My book is the next great American novel”.
  • If other published writers have read your book and would do a blurb for it mention it. If your mom read it and liked it, don’t. They don’t care. They only care about things that would help your book sell.

I know it seems impossible, but it’s not. Difficult certainly, but who ever said it would be easy? I hope this helps some of you, especially those who are thinking about coming to our meeting with Victoria Selvaggio. It would be a perfect time to try it out and get her feedback. The more feedback you can get, the better your letter will be and the better your chances of actually landing an agent. Good luck!!

Killer Nashville Made For A Killer Weekend by Kristin Crump

Anne Perry, Janet Evanovich, the Claymore Awards, the Silver Falchion Awards and the Dupin Detective Award…whew! Am I tired, but it was well worth it!!

On Augutst 17-21 I attended the 2016 Killer Nashville mystery writer’s conference in Nashville, Tennessee. This was my second time going and if anything, I enjoyed it even more this year. I took the trip with fellow SiCCO members Kandy Williams aka Mercedes King, Carolyn Melvin and Connie Berry. We drove down on Wednesday so we would be sure to be on time for our workshop Thursday afternoon. After the long trip, made even longer by rain, construction and accidents, we finally reached our hotel and decided to go to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, Mineo’s. When we finished feasting on truly delicious handmade Italian dishes, we joined in a trivia contest and Team Sisters In Crime took second place, and a $25 gift card, which we donated to our shuttle driver Joe for recommending the restaurant to us.

Thursday afternoon we were scheduled to attend the workshop, A Novel Process, taught by one of the preeminent writers of historical fiction, Ms. Anne Perry. As if getting to spend three hours with one of most prolific and award-winning writers of mysteries wasn’t enough of a treat, I learned a lot at the same time. In the first half, Perry covered outlining, why it’s important and what it will do for your writing. In the second she talked about rewriting and how to do it correctly and what to fix when you do it (more on this in a later blog post).

Friday was filled with a variety of expert panels including How To Build Your Network at Killer Nashville, How To Catch An Agent’s Eye, Inside the Deviant Mind and Creating Tension in Your Story, just to name a few. Friday night we were on our own for dinner so the four of us met up with some other Ohio writers, Ray Wenck and Andrew Welsh-Huggins, and went to dinner at a restaurant featuring southern food with flare, Tupelo Honey. If you’re ever in the Nashville area, I recommend it. They have a few other locations across the south, so you can look for them on their website tupelohoneycafe.com, to see if they have one near where you’ll be.

Saturday, the day I’d been waiting months for, finally arrived…Janet Evanovich was going to be there. I’m a huge fan and have read all her books (except for her new one Curious Minds, but it’s on my to-do list). I spent the morning working on my submission for the Dupin Detective Award, which is given to the person who figures out the mock crime scene. Around noon my day really began with lunch with Janet and Clay Stafford, then a book signing with Janet (where I gave her a book bag I made her!), then I attended a panel discussion, Writing a Series vs. Writing a Stand-Alone (with Janet Evanovich), and finally the afternoon break-out session, How I Write: Secrets of a Successful Author, with, you guessed it – Janet Evanovich! Who says you can have too much of a good thing? And no, I wasn’t stalking her…much.

Saturday night was the awards banquet. Some of the highlights of the evening for us were; SiCCO’s very own Kandy Williams was one of the ten finalists for the Claymore Award for her novel Junkyard Lounge, I won the Dupin Detective Award for solving the mock crime scene and Columbus novelist, one of our dinner companions and new SiCCO member, John Hegenberger, won the Silver Falchion for best Comedy for his novel Spyfall.

Sunday we attended a few more panels and then packed up the car for the long drive back to Ohio. We were tired, we were inspired and we were determined to come home and get back to our own writing. For myself, I can’t wait to see what my third trip to Killer Nashville brings; winning the Dupin Detective Award comes with a free registration for the next year, so 2017 will see me back at Killer Nashville, hopefully with my own novel completed!

An Afternoon With New York Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio

Writers, are you ready to spend an afternoon getting advice from a literary agent? Most agents live in NYC, making it a RARE opportunity that you can sit and chat with such a professional in a relaxed setting–not in the hussle-bussle of an expensive conference. So come hang out with us, and Ms. Vicki, for this unique event.

AND, for those who are interested, she will be reading and reviewing your query letters. There is a fee of $10 per query letter you wish to submit. Payment and query letters are required in advance of the meeting.
You can pay through Eventbrite, there is a link on our web site or you can go to Eventbrite and pay directly.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We’ll also be enjoying lunch afterward, so plan on joining us!

A Midsummer Murder Workshop

 Agenda

9:00 am – 9:30 am                   Registration, Continental Breakfast

9:30 am – 11:00 am                 Award-winning Pittsburgh author, Nancy Martin, on“The Ten Questions Before Starting Your Novel”

11:15 am – 12:15 pm               Karen Harper, NY Times and USA Today bestselling author, on “Ten Tips From the Trenches: A 32- year published author talks about what works to get and stay published”

12:15 pm – 1:30 pm                Lunch on your own at the food court

1:30 pm – 2:30 pm                 Mindy McGinnis, 2016 Edgar Award Winner for Best YA Mystery Novel, on “Writing a Historical Mystery with Modern Appeal”

2:45 pm – 3:45 pm                 Successful romance novelist turned mystery maven, Duffy Brown, talks about “Plotting the Page-turner or 12 tricks on how to add a sense of breathlessness, anticipation, and sheer gotta-know-more to your story”

3:45 pm – 4:00 pm                 Afternoon Snack

4:00 pm – 5 pm                      General panel discussion: all Authors “21st Century Publishing: Where Is It Going and What Do We Do About it?

5:00 pm – 5:30 pm                 Author book sale and signing

During the afternoon, Nancy Martin will provide individual ten-minute critique sessions for the first ten participants who register for a critique. You will receive your scheduled time on the day of the workshop.

DIRECTIONS

The event will be held at Burton Morgan Lecture Hall at Denison University in Granville Ohio.

Directions and campus map can be found on Denison’s Website.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE JULY 25 2016!

When you are ready to register, pay per one of the options below and submit this registration form (instructions for submittal on form). Workshop Registration 

Flying Tomatoes

Article by Patrick Stuart

The online version of The Atlantic had an interesting article recently about whether MFA programs produced better writers.  Now before anyone starts throwing electronic tomatoes, the basic argument was whether any difference could be detected between a best-selling novel by an author with an MFA degree, and one without.  So a couple language professors used computational analysis to determine if any differences could be found.  They looked at 200 novels over the last 15 years by authors with MFA degrees, and another 200 without.  To limit those without degrees, they decided to only review authors who had been critiqued by The New York Times.  And the results?

The various categories included diction, syntax, style, race and gender. Long story short, there wasn’t much difference. The computer model only picked MFA authors correctly 67% of the time, which isn’t great considering that a blind guess would be 50%. And consider this: MFA programs have increased nationwide from 52 programs to almost 7 times that amount now.  20,000 people apply for these programs annually, with universities gathering $200 million in the process.  So there’s a huge financial incentive to get people interested in pursuing MFAs.

Which isn’t to say that such programs are bad. On the contrary, writing a novel is only one of several uses for an MFA. And several esteemed non-MFA writers have advanced degrees in other subjects, such as Khaled Hosseini (doctor), Annie Proulx (PhD level history) and Kathy Reichs (forensic anthropologist). In other words, these are people who would probably have done well in a creative writing program anyway; they just happened to choose another profession first. But there’s also those who had successful writing careers with little to no educational background. Maya Angelou was trained as a dancer, with no college experience. William Gay worked as a handyman, painter, drywaller and carpenter before finally getting critical acclaim. And JK Rowling, the most successful writer in history, was a single mother on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

So if you’re looking for excuses about your lack of a six-figure book deal, a missing MFA is not an option. Unfortunately, like most things (not involving questionable moral or ethical lapses), the ingredients for success are a couple cups of hard work, a pound of perseverance, and a dash of luck for taste. And for anyone with an MFA who disagrees with the findings? No soy responsable por eso. But if you’re still planning on flingin’ them ‘maters, let fly in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

And for anyone wanting to check out the article, here’s the link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/03/mfa-creative-writing/462483/