“Creative nonfiction is a gloriously flexible genre. What we don’t know or can’t know doesn’t have to wreck our writing. Instead, what seemed at first to be only an empty space can be an opportunity to shape and expand a narrative, exploring the gaps and writing our way through the myths.”
–Jessica Handler, author of Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss and Invisible Sisters: A Memoir
I have raised two lovely literary citizens. My teenagers appreciate literature and love to read. They enjoy attending author readings, and the boy’s favorite place on the planet is the public library. My son and daughter care about precision in the usage of English grammar in the written (and spoken) word, and though they are still in the process of learning, they pay attention to rules of punctuation and other matters of style.
The downside: I have raised two grammar rule snobs pained by a grammar-oblivious generation.
Jack and Grace gasp at every offending “alot” and noun-verb disagreement they encounter in emails, web articles, and Facebook posts. The nightly news is a heckle-fest. The boy corrects his family members, Brian Williams, and POTUS for the most minute infractions. The girl has been known to correct (boy)friends’ grammar in their texts. In training them in the way they should go, I have ruined them. I have burdened two innocent children with the belief that the people who start their sentences with “Me” (as in, “Me and my buddies are going to spend the day playing Halo but none of us are ever going to read books, ever”) are the huns who will destroy civilization.
It’s all my fault, but I can’t help it. I cringe when I read a friend’s blog and see her misuse of “none” (None IS! None is singular!) and “I” used in place of “me.” I admit it: I used to be one of those people who publicly corrected people’s misspellings and typos on Facebook. It burned my eyes. I couldn’t let it go. Ick on me. I am thankful my friend John-not-Jon Stewart called me out one December, lending me an epiphany that my habit was the height of cyber-douchebaggery. That January 1, I resolved not to edit my friends, not even in my mind, especially on Facebook and even in emails.
Still workin’ on the “in my mind” part.
So when my friend Susan recently gifted me with my very own subscription to Creative Nonfiction, you can imagine my excitement over the promise of an article with the tease Think you can be a copyeditor? It’s more complicated than it looks in the first issue in my mailbox, Mistakes.The article would exonerate me and justify my righteous indignation and panic over the online storm of messed up jots and tittles. As a writer whose job also requires occasional copyediting, with great anticipation I dove into to the article titled (not entitled, hear me?!) The Correctors, written by Carol Fisher Saller, the Subversive Copy Editor and editor of The Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A. (Squee!)
To me, Ms. Saller is a rockstar. As cool as Clapton, more hep-cat than Sting. As authoritative on writing and editing as Strunk or White, but updated. Anything Saller says, goes. Deep down I expected her to confirm my concern that the grammar hacks of the world will crumble life as we know it… But she didn’t.
She did one better. She corrected me, and chastening never felt so good.
“It’s not all that clear,” Ms. Saller says, “even to the experts, what’s ‘correct’ when it comes to great swaths of language and grammar.”
This is the queen bee of correctors we are reading here, the corrector of correctors, calling out correctors (including yours truly) for thinking we’re all-knowing.
Copyeditors themselves are not always current on the issues. People who haven’t studied history or engineering or biology since high school or college naturally assume that their knowledge is outdated—that the subject has evolved and changed over time. They wouldn’t dream of passing themselves off as professors or engineers or doctors.
When was the last English class you took? When was the last English class I took? Not this century.
Never mind that whoever taught us in 1992 was probably using grammar she learned in 1972, which very likely came out of a textbook published in 1952: we still believe that only barbarians could question the rules of English we learned in our youth.
Though they may sting a little, these words are the most incisive and insightful I’ve heard or read on the subject, from an ultimate subject matter expert:
First, have a heart. A typo is a typo, not a sign that the barbarians are at the gate. Second, educate yourself. Read the fun and informative posts at Language Log or Lingua Franca or Grammar Girl. Third, if you’re a writer, work kindly and collaboratively with your editor. And finally, resist the temptation to post those “gotcha” comments online, pouncing on every its for it’s. While you’re busy fussing, you’re failing to read for knowledge, inspiration, or pleasure.
“That,” says Saller, “would be the real mistake.”
Listen up, my beauties. Do as Saller says, not as your mother does:
“…resist the temptation to post those ‘gotcha’ comments online, pouncing on every its for it’s. While you’re busy fussing, you’re failing to read for knowledge, inspiration, or pleasure.”*
When a blockage or spasm in one or more of your coronary arteries stops allowing freshly oxygenated blood to feed your heart muscle, a heart attack can happen. The faster that you can access emergency treatment to address that culprit artery, the better your chance of survival. The period of time between your first symptoms and actively getting the help you need can be divided into three phases:
decision time – the period from the first onset of acute symptoms to the decision to seek care (for example, calling 911)
transport time – the period from the decision to seek care to arrival at the Emergency Department
therapy time – the period from arrival at the Emergency Department to the start of medical treatment
Only the first phase is the one you have complete control over. So don’t blow it.
With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, you might be wondering what the next steps are. Here is a handy list you can use to figure out how to query literary agents and to trace your path through the publishing industry.
1. Have a completed, revised manuscript.
This means you didn’t type “The End” and then declare the book ready to be sent to agents. Make sure you have other writers read it first to look for pacing issues, plot errors, etc.
2. Draft a strong, attention grabbing query letter. (See link below.)
3. Thoroughly research the agents you want to query.
Find the best agent for you based on location, how many clients they take on, whether they give editorial feedback, whether they give a lifetime contract or a single book contract, etc.
4. Follow agent submission guidelines as mentioned on their agency website.
5. Treat finding an agent like a business.
Start a spreadsheet of what you’ve sent to each agent and the date you sent it. It can also be helpful to record the date you heard back from them in case you want to query them again later you’ll know when to expect a response.
6. Wait. (And start working on something new!)
7. Revise your query/manuscript based on agent feedback.
8. Get an offer.
9. Inform all other agents that you have an offer.
10. If you receive more than one offer, select the best agent for you and negotiate a contract.*
*If you don’t get an offer with your first book, always write something new and start over again at step 1.
11. Sign contract and celebrate.
12. Revise based on agent’s thoughts.
13. Go out on submission to editors.
14. Wait some more.
15. Either get an offer or get a rejection.
If it’s an offer, celebrate. If it’s a rejection, decide if you should revise, and then submit to more editors.
Why Choose the Traditional Publishing Path?
1. An agent to bounce ideas off of and who knows the market.
2. Direct Access to the “big” New York publishers.
3. More time to write (because you don’t have to deal with the business side of things)!!!
4. Advance Money
5. More marketing and publicity support.
5) Query Shark
• See examples and get advice on query letters
Annie Sullivan graduated in 2012 with her MFA in creative writing from Butler University. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnel’s. Her novel won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop, and she is currently working with her literary agent to get it published. She lives in Indianapolis and loves traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s working as the Publicity Coordinator at Wiley, a 207-year-old publishing company based Hoboken, NJ.
Connect with Annie Sullivan –
As I’ve mentioned before, being a mom to this particular son* is a gas—and always educational. This morning I decided to visit him in his room before he fully woke up and remembered his mother irritates him to no end. He rewarded me by reading aloud, in Latin and then English, selections from “Which Way to the Vomitorium?” My personal favorites came from the “Girl Talk” chapter, which offered handy phrases for any modern woman:
“I need 8 slaves to carry my litter.”
“Can you pass me the rat head mixture? mM hair is getting a bit thin.”
“Please don’t read any of your poetry out loud again at dinner; we’ll lose all our friends.”
With holiday season upon us (I know this because of the piped-in carols I heard at my grocery store last night 3 weeks before Thanksgiving), you’ll want to add this book to your gift list for your favorite Latin teacher or smarty pants polyglot friends and family. Merry Holidays!
*He prefaced his recitation by explaining to his Latin-ignorant mother that “vomitorium” means “theatre exit,” “from ‘uomere,’ meaning to spew forth.”
In the years after I got my MFA I was a miserable mess. I felt like a failure as a writer and a human being. I still feel that way sometimes, but now I try and fail and try again and I know that does not mean I am a failure, it only means I am a person like everyone else. If I could, here are some things I would tell my self six years ago when I was finishing graduate school.
1) Don’t even try to get published. There are some people in your class who will stop writing altogether. There are some who will only tangentially write. You will never stop writing, but don’t try to publish right now because your writing is still borderline terrible. Yes, you have an MFA but an MFA does not give you the heart, the will, the…
Mid-way through a recent group exercise class, the teacher lost me. She didn’t lose me because of some complicated step sequence or insanely long set of burpees; I mentally checked out because of a few words she kept saying over and over. “Come on! Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation! Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties! PICTURE HOW YOU’LL LOOK IN THAT DRESS!”
My previous post generated an outpouring of love in a variety of forms—compassion and empathy, mainly, and also soup—so I feel compelled to offer an update. Here it is.
Great news! I’m back to my usual state of feeling better than I look! I’ve had three consecutive, fairly “normal” health and energy days. I am hopeful this trend will continue and that when I return to work next week I will feel fully recovered from my July 23 Colorado summer vacation heart attack. (No I was not a ganja tourist. I do not smoke. Anything.)
That is all.
p.s. Thanks for the love.
p.p.s. My husband is my prince.
p.p.p.s. Thanks, Shouts from the Abyss, Demotivational Specialist, Negativity Guru, and friend, for the most vivid and precise illustration of empathy I’ve ever encountered, in this video.
The second sweetest thing about cardiac recovery is the extravagance of time you find to loll on the screened porch playing the synopsis game with your 18 year-old son, who hasn’t yet read the books you’ve loved in college and half a lifetime, but who has read the books you loved and hated in high school but can’t recall.
The sweetest thing about cardiac recovery is winning at the synopsis game against your über literary little boy-man, with the clue, “a child tries to prove his independence by leaving in many ways, never escaping the persistence of his mother’s love,” and the prize: digging out, dusting off, and reading aloud to this man the book he doesn’t remember finding in his first Easter basket, a book you read and re-read to him before naps, after naps, at bedtime, and so many times in between until the pages were bent and sticky and smudged with too swift a season.
Turns out that the kind of heart attack that I had (caused by a 99% blockage in the big left anterior descending coronary artery) – the so-called widowmaker heart attack –may actually be relatively uncommon in women. You might guess that fact by its nickname. It’s not called the “widower-maker”.
While cardiologists warn that heart disease can’t be divided into male and female forms, there are some surprising differences. Cardiologist Dr. Amir Lerman at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Los Angeles Times recently:
“When it comes to acute heart attacks and sudden death from cardiac arrest, women have these kinds of events much more often without any obstructions in their coronary arteries.”
Instead, it appears that a significant portion of women suffer from another form of heart disease altogether. It affects not the superhighway coronary arteries…
As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. In Survival Guide 2, writers submit. Step 3…
3. HAVE A PROJECT READY TO WORK ON WHEN YOU GRADUATE
I did my thesis reading and a few hours later I was on a flight with my family to move across the country. No joke. The next morning, I looked at all the boxes in this new house, in this new state, with no friends, no childcare, no stinking coffee and I knew only one thing: I had writing waiting for me. I bought a new calendar and made some deadlines and I got back to work. I didn’t do this because I loved it (exactly). I did it because I didn’t just want to…