Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Cat Fight in Key West

In the category of bizarre stories comes this one in USA Today from Key West, Florida. Turns out the Hemingway Museum there has about 50 cats, many of them descendants of the six toed Snowball, who lived at the residence with Hemingway and his family during the 1930's. One of the museum's neighbors has complained to the US Department of Agriculture that the museum is not keeping these cats out of trouble. So, in an excellent use our our federal tax dollars, the USDA has launched a federal investigation of the museum. Gum shoed investigators have rented rooms in an adjacent motel, and spend their days videotaping the movement of these 50 cats. Turns out that -- horrors of horrors -- one of the cats scaled the museum wall and went out into the street.

Another sign of the decline of Western Civilization. When simple disputes require a federal investigation to resolve we must be losing our collective common sense, wouldn't you say ?

I'm not sure what this says about me or about Hemingway's writing, but I haven't been able to make it through one of his books since high school. At 15 I was a Hemingway fiend, reading at least a dozen of his classics. But as an adult, his prose seems contrived and his heroes seem shallow and one dimensional. Does anyone else feel the same way about Hemingway ?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Amazing Grace

As I finish revising Chapter Two of my latest work-in-progress, Letter to an Atheist, I see signs of 18th Century reformed slave trader John Newton and his younger friend, politician and Christian abolitionist William Wilberforce all around.

Newton, of course, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, and his younger protege Wilberforce was the Member of Parliament responsible for persuading that body to end the slave trade in 1808 and then abolish slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834. Both men play an important role in my Chapter Two on the Bible, Christianity, and Slavery, in which I refute the contentions of atheist Sam Harris that the Bible unequivically supported slavery and that most Christians prior to the Civil War accepted that view.

Look for the stories of Newton and Wilberforce on the big screen this February when the movie Amazing Grace is relased. Produced by Patricia Heaton (the former co-star of TV's Everybody Loves Raymond), and starring Ioan Gruffund (Horatio Hornblower in the A and E series), it will be interesting to see what kind of box office this film will achieve.

The movie focuses more on Wilberforce's story, as well as that of his friend Equiano, the freed slave from West Africa (see portrait of the historical Equiano and the actor who plays him to the right).

Newton's slave trading, conversion, and hymn writing occur decades earlier, and his story is told in Christine Schaub's new novel, The Longing Season. Newton is an old man who befriends the younger Wilberforce in the movie.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Landmark Booksellers in Franklin, Tennessee

I stopped by Landmark Booksellers, a two year old independent book store just off the square in Franklin, Tennessee, and visited with its owner, Joel Tomlin. A veteran entrepreneur with a knack for real estate, Joel purchased the large historic building at 114 East Main Street at the same time he purchased the entire inventory of 40,000 books owned by Dad's Old Book Store, the Green Hills book store that closed down a couple years ago.

A native Nashvillian, Joel is a lover of books, Southern Literature, and the Civil War. He also brings to mind visions of stylish Confederate Generals of yesteryear. I include here a photo of General Beauregard, whom I think Joel favors (as the term is used in the South).

Joel's strategy is a good one I think. Purchase real estate off the square in a growing but historic Southern town. Fill the book store with rare and old books, but also make new books available. Make the store a friendly place to come and hang out and browse. Give all sorts of groups -- poets, writers, Civil War buffs -- a place to hold regular events. Feature local writers and hold lots of author signings.

You can see the inside of Landmark Books here, as well as a picture of a local author speaking. That's Kathy Hardy Rhodes, author of Pink Butterbeans. And, in an interesting convergence of worlds (see the preceeding post), Pink Butterbeans is published by Cold Tree Press !

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peter Hornsberger and Cold Tree Press

I had a terrific phone conversation yesterday with Peter Hornsberger of Cold Tree Press, based here in Nashville. Peter, a native of Vermont, is a veteran graphic design and advertising industry executive who founded a POD (Print-on-Demand) publishing company in his garage five years ago. Now, after publishing about 100 books, he's ready to move into a real office in Brentwood, along with his four employees.

Just by looking at the Cold Tree Press website you can tell this is a quality operation. Here's the business model:

Cold Tree charges authors a one time up front fee of between $900 and $1400 to get their books print ready. Services include formatting the text, designing the book cover, and can include editing (though extensive editing is an extra fee). Once the book is ready, Cold Tree subcontracts the actual production to Lightning Source, the local Ingram Books subsidiary that specializes in digital POD printing. Print runs typically are in the range of 1 to 1000.

The author maintains the rights to the book, but Cold Tree owns the books produced this way. Authors can purchase their own books from Cold Tree at a 40% off retail price. They also receive a 30 per cent royalty on books sold through the Cold Tree website and a 15% royalty on books sold through retailers or online retailers.

The best total sales from a title in the Cold Tree catalog has been 3,000 units.

Cold Tree will be offering an offset print option next year, which means initial runs will be 1,500 minimum.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Yet another Red River !

Thanks to blog poster Captain Boone for letting me know about yet another book titled Red River. I knew about Lalitha Tademy's upcoming book of that title, but was unfamiliar with P.J. Nagle's 2003 Red River, published by Forge Books.

A brief review of the outline provided me with great relief.

The book is set in the Red River Campaign, but the story is significantly different than mine.

Nagle appears to have blazed the trail to write fiction of lesser known battles of the Civil War west of the Mississippi (hey, that's MY path !) a decade earlier. Fortunately, her trail seems to be much further west than mine, focusing on New Mexico and Galveston, with Red River being her eastern most foray.

This leaves me, of course, with the problem of coming up with a title for the second book of the trilogy. Red River being unavailable, Captain Boone points out that Bailey's Dam may not work well, since Joseph Bailey may not have been a particularly admirable character. In any event, his engineering feat was the single most important event of the campaign.

So, I leave it to you, dear blog reader. Ideas for the title of the second book ?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South

I heard Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South, speak today at the Williamson County Public Library. He told a great story about his first and only meeting with the legendary Shelby Foote.

Also did a great job describing the context of the Battle of Franklin, and how the battle's outcome sealed the fate of the South.

There were 60 people in attendance. Surprisingly, not a one under 30. A good one third of the audience was over 70. I wish we could get more young people interested in writing in general, and the Civil War in particular.

The great news was the topic for his next book.

The last three days in the life of John Bell Hood.

Now there's a great start !

Friday, December 08, 2006

An Alphabetical Life

Wendy Werris has written a terrific memoir about her life as an independent rep for book publishers. With an engaging title (An Alphabetical Life) the book includes great tales about accompanying authors to their book signings and the writing life.

Love the book cover !

Would love to have Wendy speak to our writers group, but the trek from her home in Los Angeles to Nashville might be a bit of a stretch.

A walking oxymoron

The Williamson County Public Library Writers Group met last night. Every time I go to the library I am impressed and thankful to the architect for the beauty of the building. Thanks to Janice Keck, Executive Director, we are now meeting in the Board Room, which is ever so comfortable. Nice room, nice big leather chairs, very pleasant.

This time, we had six writers in attendance. Four old hands and two newbies. One of the newbies responded to the notice in the local paper the library puts out. Seems like every meeting we get one or two newbies from that source.

This newbie was most interesting. His name is Terry, and I think he may well be a walking oxymoron.

He is an Information Technology professional. He's spent his entire career writing code, and now installing high level software.

Guess what genre he wants to write in ?

Romance novels !

I cannot wait to read his first chapter. Any advice for Terry from romance novelists out there ?

Now, I am really looking forward to hearing his first chapter. Talk about worlds colliding !

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Some kind of something from the fabulous Ms. Vater

This was posted on the blog of Rachel Vater about six hours ago. She's the fabulous young literary agent who received an e-query from me back on November 10.

I’ve caught up on my e-mail queries from October 28 to November 28. If you sent me one during that time and haven’t gotten a response yet, then you either didn’t use the website form (and it’s possible it got buried in my other inbox) or the e-mail you listed didn’t work and bounced back to me, or your SPAM filter stopped it… or I’m holding on to it. I’ve saved 20 out of over 200 e-mail queries to look at more closely, give a personal reply to, forward to another agent here, or request myself.

Having not received a form e-mail back from Ms. Vater yet, I assume that my query is among those 20 to be looked at more closely, or about to receive a personal reply.

Ms. Vater is from Kentucky, and therefore possibly immune to the "Who cares about the Civil War ?" point of view I have ascribed to east coast literary agents. Or, she just might find my writing fabulous.

We'll see if we hear anything further from her.

I am tempted to just send her another email, along with the link to my wiki, where the entire manuscript of Fort Desperate is posted (password protected, of course). But I think I'll just wait and see what she has to say.

I do take a degree of satisfaction in knowing that I finally appear to have made a bit of progress in the agent search process. Hey, and it's taken far less than five and a half months this time !

Monday, December 04, 2006

Five and a Half Month E-Query Response

On July 14 I sent an e-query to Manus Literary Agency. Half an hour ago (that would be five and a half months for those of you who are counting), I received the following response in my email:

Dear Author,

Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to read your submission. We appreciate your considering us for representation of your project.

Unfortunately, after careful review, we have decided that we might not be the right agents for your work. However, we hope that you are not disheartened. This industry is incredibly subjective, and there are many agencies out there with many different tastes. We strongly encourage you to keep submitting elsewhere, as you might already have a bestseller in your hands.

We apologize for the form letter reply, but the volume of submissions we receive has finally made it impossible for us to hand-write responses as we have for so many years. We hope you will understand and forgive us this necessary efficiency. In addition, we do not feel it is proper for us to provide editorial feedback on projects we have decided not to represent.

We wish you the very best of luck and success with your work, and urge you to keep on writing!


Manus & Associates Literary Agency

This is just too rich not to post !

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Better Together ? Not without individual responsibility within a covenantal community

Lew Feldstein, co-author along with Harvard professor Robert Putnam of Better Together, the follow up book to Putnam's Bowling Alone, will be speaking in Franklin, Tennesse this week on the topic of building social capital within communities.

Now, I'm all in favor of this. And, if there is a community in America where social capital has been developed, and has potential for developing even further, it's Franklin, Tennessee.

But there's a certain hollowness to the exclusively secular approach to building social capital that Feldstein and Putnam champion. Discouraged by what he saw as the disintegration of American civic activisim that he cataloged in Bowling Alone, Putnam joined with Feldstein in a tour of the United States to find and write about examples of community based activism that built positive social capital. And they found about a dozen, which they describe in their book. Eight of these examples are listed on their website:

(1) A mentoring and reading program in Philadelphia that brings together retirees and elementary school children to the benefit of both – the children get help reading and the retirees have a richer, more purposeful life
(2) A group of sixth-grade activists in a small Wisconsin town who managed to persuade local authorities to improve safety at a railroad crossing and in doing so learned a valuable lesson in civic activism
(3) A neighborhood in Boston that has been revitalized by a civic association that overcame ethnic differences and now plays an ongoing role in the neighborhood
(4) A community effort in the impoverished Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest regions in the U.S., that brought such basic services as electricity, roads, and health care to the mostly Spanish-speaking residents

(5) A successful small business initiative in Tupelo, Mississippi, that began sixty years ago with the purchase of a prize bull
(6) Chicago public libraries that have broadened their mission and have become true community centers
(7) Two huge and rapidly growing churches in Los Angeles that are making people feel connected to other church members and their community
(8) The city of Portland, Oregon, where the anti-war movement of the sixties actually changed the institutions so that now there is a remarkably high level of civic engagement in government and politics (more so than in other cities, even other cities on the west coast).

It's interesting to note that the only faith based example Feldstein and Putnam cite is credited for how it connects church members, but not why these church members are connected.

They also suggest 150 ways to build social capital within a community. Only one of those suggestions is faith related, and it's even couched to a degree.

Suggestion 59. Go to church...or temple...or walk outside with your children–talk to them about why its important

I'm left wondering if their point here is to simply engage in some activity with your children.

There's a problem with the secular approach to building social capital. Sooner or later, the charismatic leaders of the particular community program will die or leave, and the remaining infrastructure may not be strong enough to sustain the effort.

I think a better, more long lasting model of buidling social capital within communities is what I call individual responsibility within a covenantal community.

What do I mean by a covenantal community ?

I mean a community which is anchored by a group of believing Christians who belong to one or more of the following institutions:

A church
A classical Christian school

There are many mutually re-enforcing covenants within a covenental community. All of these covenants are an extension of the single most important covenant--

The covenant between God and Man.

The subordinate coventants of which I speak are those between:

Husband and wife
Fellow believers
Parents and children
Pastor and church members
Teachers and students

Dear Author . . .

Miriam Altshuler, literary agent, followed Janet Reid's example with a negative response to my snail mail query. Unlike Miss Reid ( Miss Snark ?), Ms. Altshuler sent a form letter (well really a form snippet of paper 8 inches by 3 inches) that began

Dear Author:

Nope !

It's been a month, and still no response from my e-query to Rachel Vater. I am beginning to think that east coast thirty something women may not care about the Civil War. Or, to be specific, my novel about the Civil War. At least Miss Reid took the time to hand write her rejection.

So, I am wondering if this querying of New York based agents is just a waste of time. Of course, it could be that they like the Civil War, just don't like my writing about it !

Jeff Shaara is his own agent. I am not sure who represents Howard Bahr, but I am going to check out who does. I know that Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South, was represented by Jeff Kleinfelder. He's out of Washington D.C., and definitely not a thirty something woman, though he is an east coaster.

This is a theory mind you, so if there are any east coast thirty something women out there who are reading this, try answering this question for me -- Do you care about the Civil War ? Or are you totally disinterested ?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Darnell Arnout to speak January 4th at Writers Group

Fellow Tennessean and novelist Darnell Arnout will speak at the January 4 meeting of the Williamson County Public Library Writers Group. Miss Arnout is the author of the soon to be released novel Sufficient Grace, from the Free Press.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Look for scientific discovery on genetics to influence origin debate

A major scientific study just published in Nature concludes that there are far greater variances in the DNA of one person versus another. Instead of sharing 99.9% of the same DNA as everyone else, the study concludes that variation within human beings can be as much as ten times greater than previously believed.

This is a significant scientific breakthrough that will probably change the fundamantal paradigms of the study of genetics.

Look for scientists involved in the evolution/intelligent design/creationism controversy to analyze this data for its implications for that debate.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jeff Shaara Book Signing in Nashville

So I'm scrolling through my to do list this morning, and for some reason I decide to take a look at Jeff Shaara's web site again. I was thinking about Keith Raffel having just completed his book tour, and, on a lark, thought I would see what kind of book tour Jeff had planned to support his new book Rising Tide.

So I click over to events and I find, hey guess what ? Jeff Shaara is coming to Davis-Kidd bookstore in Nashville sometime soon. When, I wonder.

November 21. Hey, that's tonight !

So I scramble to rearrange the Leahy family kids pickup schedule and voila, I'm at Davis-Kidd for Jeff's 6 pm appearance. Well not exactly there on time. A little matter of the brake job getting done in Franklin at 5:30 instead of the 4:00 pm I was promised, but who's quibbling over minor details like that ?

In any event, Jeff Shaara was terrific.

Much more animated than I had pictured, and a really very nice fellow.

There were about 50 people there, including a Lieutenant Colonel from Fort Campbell who drove all the way down from Clarksville to meet Jeff and have him sign her book. Turns out that the Shaara Civil War trilogy was required reading in her ROTC class almost two decades ago.

A finely attired gentleman from the Publisher, Ballantine Books, was there to keep the event flowing well. By 7:45 the last of the books had been signed, and Mr. Shaara was off to the next city on his tour, and I headed back to hearth and home.

My key takeaway ?

"My job is to get inside the heads of these characters, and tell their story to you."

That's how Jeff describes his writing task, and I think it's a worthy goal, something worth striving for.

On a side note, Davis-Kidd in the mall is not nearly as good as Davis-Kidd when it was a standalone bookstore. It's a big Waldens Books now and it has none of the feel of leisurely enjoyment it used to.

First Draft of Chapter 1 Letter to an Atheist

I have finished the first draft of Chapter 1 of Letter to an Atheist. If you would like to review and edit this draft chapter, email me at

Monday, November 20, 2006

A factor of 750,000

In 1650, James Ussher, Anglican archibishop of Armagh and a resident of London, calculated 4004 B.C. as the date God created the Earth, as well as Adam and Eve. That date, now 6,010 years in our rear view mirror, multiplied by 750,000 equals the 4.5 billion year age most mainstream scientists today give the the Earth as calculated by radiometric (carbon dating) techniques.

Here's what the noted paleontologist Steven Jay Gould had to say about Ussher's calculation:

I shall be defending Ussher's chronology as an honourable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past

Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology…

Young Earth Creationists subscribe to Ussher's chronology (6,000 years) or some variant thereof (10,000 years).

Old Earth Creationists, such as Dr. Hugh Ross of Reason to Believe, and David Snokes, Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Pittsburgh, subscribe to the 4.5 billion year age, as do Intelligent Designers, and Darwinian Evolutionists.

And there is the large group of people -- the majority perhaps --who have not studied the issue enough to come to a determination.

Where do you fall in on this discussion and why ?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Letter to an Atheist

A major Christian publisher has requested a partial submission in response to my e-query proposing my planned book Letter to an Atheist: A Response to Sam Harris.

Two chapters and a table of contents, to be submitted by snail mail. It took about 15 minutes to go from query to request for submission. This suggests I may be on to something here.

I am surprised that Christian publishers are not deluged by similar proposals. Perhaps the unique nature of my proposal is to respond to Mr. Harris with a logical argument, addressing his key errors point by point.

It may be unwise to interrupt the polishing of the final draft of Fort Desperate to work on this new submission right now, but I sense that timing matters greatly.

Comments ?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Letter to a Christian Nation

At Borders again, and this slim volume catches my attention. Sam Harris, a Stanford grad and a Phd. student in neuroscience wrote a best seller in 2005 titled The End of Faith in which he sets forth his atheistic beliefs and calls for the end of religious faith, since in his opinion it is the antithesis of logic, and the cause of many of the ills of modern society. I had never heard of either that book or its author.

But his new effort, Letter to a Christian Nation, is an attempt by Mr. Harris to "demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity."

As a believing Christian who came to that belief through rational thought, and who applies logic and reason to every aspect of his life, I purchased the book to see if Mr. Harris has a coherent argument.

He does not.

His book if filled with errors in fact and logic which are too numerous to review in this blog, but I am tempted to draft my own Letter to Sam Harris to refute his argument point by point.

Suffice it to say that one of his many fallacious arguments is that acceptance of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, or some variant thereof, is inconsistent with Christianity.

It is not, and here are three well respected scientists, with Phds. from Harvard, the University of North Carolina, and Stanford respectively who make just that rational, logical, and reasoned argument.

Dr. Francis S. Collins (Phd. University of North Carolina, M.D. Yale)

Dr. Owen Gingerich of Harvard

Dr. Joan Roughgarden of Stanford

Evolution of Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist

I hasten to add that, despite the numerous errors in logic contained in his slim little volume (91 pages in a 6 inch by 9 inch book), Mr. Harris has succeeded dramatically where I have not. Not yet at least ! His new book is ranked #19 on the Amazon book sales chart.

So, the game is on, dear blog reader.

I want comments, comments, comments on this subject. Do you agree with Mr. Harris that Christianity is inconsistent with reason, or do you agree with me, that the Christian faith is best discovered by the rigorous application of reason ?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Premature Query - 2

This from Keith Raffel:

Just a word of caution. As it says on my agent's
website, "Remember: any agent or editor is likely to
only read your manuscript once, so make sure that you
aren't sending out an early draft which could be
improved with more work."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Michelle Willingham latest winner of MPL Recommended Author Award

Today, I am announcing another winner of the Michael Patrick Leahy Recommended Author Award. Her name is Michelle Willingham, and she just signed her first book deal, Her Irish Warrior, a historical novel set in medieval Ireland. Michelle has been added because her website is an excellent example of marketing by an aspiring writer, and, the excerpts I have read of her work are outstanding.

Ms. Willingham is also recognized for her persistence and dedicated commitment to her craft. She sent the polished manuscript of her book to her now publisher in September, 2005. At the time, she was not represented. She secured an agent in August, 2006, and the publisher offered her a book contract in September, 2006. The anticipated publication date is May, 2007.

Keep your eye on Ms. Willingham. She has several more novels in the works. The combination of her excellent writing, her ambition, and her keen eye for 21st Century marketing suggest the beginning of a long and prolific writing career.

Shaara and Raffel inaugural honorees of this blog

I have decided to add a new award to my blog.

It's called the Michael Patrick Leahy Recommended Author Award.

It will be given to writers who have helped me on my journey, either by their example (in either their writing or their marketing), or through encouraging comments and advice. The award will be given periodically as I discover worthy recipients.

Keith Raffel and Jeff Shaara, both of whom have been very helpful in their comments, are the inaugural winners of this soon to be prestigious award.

I am thinking of launching a contest among readers of this blog. Who should be given the next coveted Michael Patrick Leahy Recommended Author Award ?

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Stopped by Borders after church and was thrilled to see Jeff Shaara's new book, The Rising Tide, on display. It's the first in his World War II trilogy. I bought it, of course, and it's wonderful.

20 years ago I read his father's Killer Angels, and I knew that I would someday write historical fiction about America.

I've patterned my writing on the Shaara style. It's a style that works for Shaara, but for a new writer may take a bit of explaining. That's what the numbers at the top of this post describe.

Nine characters, 40 chapters, divided into three parts in The Rising Tide.

The numbers at the top of this post show the number of chapters devoted to each of the nine characters, listed in order of their appearance in the book.

Shaara's The Rising Tide: 1-9-1-10-7-1-4-5-2 in three parts.

Leahy's Fort Desperate:
3-17-14-15-4-3-4-2-1-1-1-1 in six parts.

Will it work ?

Stay tuned.

2 days 23 hours and counting

Saturday, November 11, 2006

No second chance to make a good first impression

I finished the 250 word query letter.

It's pretty good, if I do say so myself.

It's the 250 words I should have submitted to Ms. Vater, literary agent. But, what's done is done. No second chance submittals. Bad aspiring writer form.

I had a vision of the e-mail I anticipate receiving from her some time:

Dear nitwit:

What part of 250 words MAXIMUM do you not understand ?

Fabulous literary agent who will never represent you

Just for sport, blog readers are invited to submit comments on their version of RV's response to my previous submission. A prize of garlands for the submission that comes closest to the actual response !

2 days and counting.

If you would like to see the 250 page query letter that is pretty good, if I do say so myself, email me at

2 days 14 hours and counting.

Query letter advice from an expert

A well known writer, with dozens of excellent novels and histories to his credit (also an Irishman) had this to say about the blog of yours truly.

" Your blog is amusing, but it's not the way to get an agent. The way to get one is: Write a very good one page letter that sells you and the book and send it to a dozen agents, ending it with a request to come in for an interview if they're interested."

Great advice. Should have referred to it before I dropped off the e-query to Ms. Vater.

Interesting how the writer in question, who does not know me from Adam, and lives far from here, has taken the time to respond to several of my e-mails for advice. Each time he has been very kind and very helpful.

I compare that generosity to the style of another writer, who lives not five miles from where I sit. This local writer has never responded to the two e-mails I have sent.

It's not as if I'm asking this local writer to come over and share some real tomato ketchup with me.

1 day 18 hours and counting.

Self inflicted nitwittery

I had an earlier post, which I have subsequently deleted, which showed the synopsis I sent to Ms. Vater, the literary agent.

It's pretty clear the synopsis she requests is a maximum 250 words, not the 600 I submitted.

Self inflicted nitwittery.

On the bright side, it is forward progress. Not in securing representation by Ms. Vater, but in getting better at this finding an agent process.

The 250 words Ms. Vater seeks, though described as a synopsis, is really more of a query letter.

That 250 word, 1 page query letter seems to absolutely be the standard.

I knew that, by the way. That the query letter should be 1 page.

What I missed, though, was really how to right a good query letter. Every one of those 250 words need to excite the interest of the agent. More inviting, conversational, if you will than a synopsis.

So I am going to work on that query letter idea for a bit now.

1 Day, 16 hours and counting since the synopsis e-winged to Ms. Vater's inbox. No response yet.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Another fabulous blog of a young literary agent

I keep running into these fabulous and interesting blogs of young literary agents. The previously mentioned Miss Snark, of course, is the queen of such blogs, but another pretender to the throne, Rachel Vater is equally helpful while being positively sweet.

Both agents appear to be in their early thirties, and my guess would be they are both as left wing in their political ideologies as I am right wing. So here is this middle aged right wing guy from a red state saying unabashedly that these two blue state assumedly left wingers are positively tremendous.

We'll see how it plays out though.

I sent a query to Ms. Vater, so we will see what the response is.

I can't honestly say that the query was especially fantastic though. Her agency requires you to fill out a form and limits the synopsis to 250 words. I hurried through the editing of the 3 page synopsis I have in my Query Folder to get to 250 words (probably a mistake to hurry it), then sent it off.

We'll see when and if it makes it to the top of Ms. Vater's pile -- and how she responds.

The great thing about these two blogs is they give you the insider's view as to why an agent says no to a query, or why they say yes. Usually it's no, but there really are reasons for the no.

The overwhelming theme of both blogs is your work has to be really good to attract their attention because there are so very many other things competing for their time and attention -- numerous queries, the responsibility to sell their existing clients works, and review the complete manuscripts of queries which cleared the first hurdle.

The Blogosphere Writers Group

If you are looking for a 24/7 writers group where all members can post their work on a wiki, and edit the work of other members, go to The Blogosphere Writers Group.

The Logic of Logic

When we embarked on this Family Night Together project, and Dad decided we would use it to study the art and science of Logic as a family, Dad received some wise counsel from a veteran home school mom. 45 minutes tops she said, for the textbook. Then mix in some fun exercises.

I can report that the veteran home school mom was absolutely correct. To my great pleasure, the children are engaged and participate in the lessons from the Douglas Wilson text. But eyelids start to close and yawns proliferate after the first half hour. By the end of the first hour, the Get me outta here ! looks begin.

So, going forward, it's a half hour for the text, with Mindbender and other fun exercises for the rest of the time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wiki Wacky

I am sometimes accused of being fascinated by the possibilities of new technologies.

It's true I'm afraid.

Consider the wiki. As in Wikipedia. It's an editable website.

I have started my own wiki for Fort Desperate, and several editors around the country are using it to help me get to the third draft.

So, as a public service to anyone interested in testing out a wiki for their own writing, just go to WriterWiki and test it out.

One caution, though.

This is a PUBLIC wiki at the moment, just like Wikipedia. You have to know where it is, so anyone can edit in the current version. If there's enough interest, I'll set up privacy controls so only invited editors can look at and edit your work.

Oh, and here's an offer. I'll take a shot at being the first wiki editor if you choose to try WriterWiki.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My new tune

I'll go MAD I tell you, MAD !

A recent study concluded that 95% of bloggers do it for the mental health benefits.

You see, no one actually visits most blogs. With the exception of the blog of the ubiquitous Miss Snark, which apparently every aspiring bad, mediocre, and good writer in America checks out each morning, most blogs average about 32 cumulative viewers. Since the beginning of time.

The mental health benefit of blogging is it gives the blogger the illusion that there is a community out there in the ether that actually cares what he or she writes or thinks.

With apologies to Robert D. Putnam, we are not Bowling Alone, we are Blogging Alone.

I'll change my tune when I actually see a comment on this blog.

Miss Snark -- a wonder to behold

All fellow aspiring writers -- if you have not visited Miss Snark's blog, I urge you to run, not walk, to her most recent posting.

She is cruel, witty, clever, and quite helpful.

An anonymous New York literary agent with a can't put it down blog that has had 1.5 million visitors since it launched in July 2005.

If she ever reveals herself, my guess is we will discover her to be a very successful, attractive, thirty something, left-wing prodigy. Either that or the ghost of Red Auerbach.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Newly discovered writers

They say that when you are interested in a particular topic, you suddenly see it every where around you. It was there all along, you are just now noticing it.

The same can be said for writers.

Here are two new writers I recently discovered who are very good.

New Writer # 1: Lalita Tademy, a Silicon Valley hot shot like my author friend Keith Raffel, became obsessed with her family history. She quit her job as a VP at Sun Microsystems and wrote the 4 generation saga of her Louisiana family, Cane River. It's set in the Cane River, a side channel of the Red River north of Alexandria and south of Natchitoches.

A couple of interesting things about Ms. Tademy. First, like Keith Raffel, she attended a UC Berkely Extension Course in Writing. They must be doing something right in that class ! And second, her latest novel -- scheduled for publication in January 2007 -- is titled Red River. That's right. Red River, not The Red River, the title for the second book in my Trans-Mississippi Trilogy.

The good news, her novel focuses on the Colfax Massacre of 1873, not the Red River Campaign of 1864. But still, I imagine I will have to come up with another title for my book. Hmmmm. I'm thinking Bailey's Dam might work. Any ideas out there ?

New Writer # 2: Ralph Peters, a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army, writing under the nom-de-plume of Owen Parry, has a Civil War mystery series featuring Union Major Abel Jones, a Welshman and a detective. His latest, The Rebels of Babylon, is set in 1863 New Orleans, and we see several characters in Fort Desperate in this mystery, including Nathaniel Banks.

Writers to emulate

I am told by readers of my second draft that I have a style. Well researched, sometimes overexplained prose with characters in need of more life.

The trouble is, when I read the stories of my characters, they are alive and vivid in my mind. Translating the characters I see to the written word the reader sees appears to be the problem.

What writers do this well ?

The late Shelby Foote, of course, whose three volume history of the Civil War reads more like a novel than prose.

Howard Bahr, whose latest, The Judas Field, is set in Mississippi and Tennessee, is a wonderfully compelling novelist. His characters grab you in the first paragraph, and hold on to you until the very last. Now that's a style to emulate ! Howard, by the way, teaches at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, 70 miles south of here.

Winston Groom, he of Forrest Gump fame, is an extraordinarily gifted writer of histories. Like me, he follows his ancestors as they experienced the wars of America. My ancestors were all enlisted men. His were line officers. So far, he's written on the Battle of New Orleans, The Civil War, and World War II. Great prose. More like I write naturally, I think.

And of course, the two who started it all for me, the late Michael Shaara and his son Jeff Shaara. You could say that Michael was the Stephen Crane of our era. His Killer Angels, modestly successful until the TNT movie Gettysburg, set the standard for modern novels of the Civil War. Jeff completed the Civil War trilogy with the prequel, Gods and Generals, and the sequel The Last Full Measure. Then, he moved earlier to the Mexican-American War, the Revolutionary War, World War I, and now on to World War II. Curiously, Gone for Soldiers, the Mexican-American War novel, covers only the later southern Mexico campaign of Winfield Scott, and leaves the earlier northern Mexico campaign story untold. Perhaps he's leaving it for another writer with time and interest in the Taylor family. I wonder .....

Friday, November 03, 2006

In search of a regional publisher

Despite the recent setback with Pelican Publishing, I am growing more convinced that a direct approach to a small regional publisher makes the most sense now.

The 9 state regional marketing plan I laid out in my Pelican Publishing query letter will definitely work. Now I just need to find a regional publisher who accepts historical fiction.

32 metropolitan markets in the following 9 states have a strong connection to the characters in Fort Desperate: Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky.

I get conflicting signals on the genre.

Lots of articles written around 2000 saying historical fiction was on the upswing. But today, publishers apparently are cutting back on their fiction offerings.

Pelican has dropped it, and a Nashville regional publisher, Cumberland House, that I was considering, also no longer publishes fiction.

There's a group in Iowa called Camp Pope that specializes in the Trans-Mississippi of the Civil War, but that looks more like a self publishing group.

I keep sending query letters to agents, but, now with about 30 rejections and counting, it doesn't look promising that one of these will come back with a "love your work gotta sign you up" response.

So, I am looking for a regional publisher in the South or the Southeast. Small, but established, that will look at a submission without an agent.

Any ideas ?

UPDATE: November 13

I have an idea. My idea is to keep plugging away for an agent. I will still be on the look out for a good regional publisher, but after fixing my query letter (see above) I am thinking it is pretty good. Good enough to snag an agent.

We shall see.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Writers Group-- Meeting 3

Tonight was the third meeting of the Williamson County Writers Group. The cast changes each meeting.

We had five folks there tonight.

Wendy Witherow had a great fiction story for young girls.

Jim Eddy had a travelogue adventure.

Anne Rogers had a cycling adventure set in France.

Thank goodness, I was the only one with a Civil War novel. I can't tell you how many local writers groups here in Middle Tennessee have several middle aged men like me writing Civil War novels. None as good as mine, mind you. And all set in Nashville or Franklin, unlike mine, which is set primarily in New Orleans and the surrounding area.

Kathy Treadwell didn't read, but had words of encouragement for all.

It was a good mix tonight.

The over under on next week's attendance ? Hard to say. We had twelve Month 1, four Month 2, and five Month 3.

I am guessing 6.

But we'll see.

The next group meeting is 6 pm December 7th. Pearl Harbor Day. I imagine we have pretty much run through any potential soldier memoirs of that day... The youngest survivor would be about 81 now, right ?

A waste of $3.70

Though Pelican Publishing's website says they publish historical fiction, a phone call today to their editor confirmed two things.

Yes, they have received my query letter.

No, they are no longer publishing historical fiction.

I resisted the urge to suggest an updating of their website.

Pelican Publishing Update

Last Wednesday -- that would be October 26 -- I sent a well prepared "query letter" via snail mail to Pelican Publishing in Gretna, Louisiana. Located just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, Pelican is a regional publisher that specializes in fictional history. Sounds like a perfect fit for Fort Desperate, right ? That's what I thought.

Still do think so, but judging from the editor's tepid reaction to my phone call I am having second thoughts about that now. I phoned this Tuesday -- that would be 4 business days since I mailed the package -- to see if they had received it . Spoke with the editor directly, and she told me they had not logged it in yet, and seemed quite disinterested in learning anything about me or Fort Desperate. I didn't push it, but this fits in the category of inauspicious beginning.

The package contains a cover letter, a three page synopsis, an outline, two sample chapters, and a 9 state marketing plan.

Pelican's web site says they will take 30 days to respond to a "query letter". If they ask for a complete manuscript submission after they have reviewed the "query letter", they require an additional 3 months of exclusive review before they make a publish/reject decision.

This timing works fine for me.

I finished the first draft on July 31.

The second draft is almost done now, will be completely finished by November 30.

That will give me until March 1 to finish the third draft.

The first draft was reviewed by three Civil War scholars, who have provided excellent comments to me. Based on those comments, I have changed the structure of the book, adding some elements to the plot, subtracting others. The major addition has been to develop a more authentic "Afro-Creole" voice for the Andre Cailloux character.

With the story line complete with the second draft, I will turn my attention in the third draft to making the characters more compelling. Focus on "showing" not "telling." The biggest criticism of my writing style so far is that I over explain.

And, I buy that criticism.

So, draft three will "show" not "tell." At least more than draft two does.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Christian World View Wikipedia ?

Anyone interested in starting a Christian World View Wikipedia ? One of Wikipedia's co-founders just started Citizendium -- basically Wikipedia with editing. Citizendium as a Wikipedia knock off with editing might provide an interesting model for such a project.

I note that the domain name is available so far ! would require editor control to keep vandals out. My thinking is you could start the project with a dozen editors. Just take then content from Wikipedia and start cleaning it up.

Articles would be Non-Certified prior to editing and Christianpedia-Certified after editing.

Think of the possibilities if every school kid or or teacher at a Classical Christian School could make contributions to this Christianpedia, which would post subsequent to editorial review. Now there's a Christian Army !

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Teaching Logic to my kids

My children attend public high schools here in Williamson County.

My wife and I are seriously considering moving the youngest into a Classical School next year -- where they teach the old "trivium" of grammar, rhetoric, and logic.

We've decided to make a "dramatic" family change. TV is GONE for the next 3 months while we spend one evening a week -- are you ready for this -- studying LOGIC as a family. My wife is not sure it will work, but I think it will.

We will be using Doug Wilson's Introduction to Logic. Anyone have any ideas ?

Thinking of a 2 hour session on Wednesday nights.

15 minutes of "MindBenders" , followed by an hour of one of the 36 lessons with exercises in Wilson's book followed by 45 minutes of .... well not sure, maybe reading the classics ? The Bible ? De Toqueville's Democracy in America ?

Stay tuned.

Random Comments About the Writing Process

My friend Keith Raffel provides an excellent example of how to complete the process of being a first time writer with style and class.

I mention him because his new book, a mystery titled "Dot Dead" , has gotten rave reviews. His website has a blog of his activities related to promoting the book, so I think I will model my blog on his.

But in my blog, you will see the writing process at an earlier stage.

My novel, "Fort Desperate", is at the second draft stage. I've gotten through my first twenty agent rejections, and have decided to send a query letter to a regional publisher -- Pelican -- that I think will have an interest in the book. We'll see.

More details on the book can be found at my web site: