Amber J. Gardner

Amber J. Gardner: How I Got to Crossroads

Amber J. GardnerI decided to become a novelist shortly after my mom passed away in 2006 from cancer. My father had died (also cancer) when I was a year old, so I found myself without any immediate family and completely on my own by the age of 20. The latter was probably a good thing, the former not so much.

It was the first time I decided to take writing seriously, but didn’t actually make any progress till I finally completed the first draft of a novel in 2008 thanks to Chris Baty and NaNoWriMo.

Still, I wasn’t writing as much as I should’ve been due to perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc.

Once I failed to graduate college, I was miserable. I hadn’t achieved any goals and I was still living in Puerto Rico, which is where I’ve lived since I was five-years-old and desperately wanted to leave since I was 13.

So after a Quarter-Life crisis, I decided I had enough. I was going to take my goals seriously. Moving to the U.S. was one of them, so after family on my father’s side found and contacted me (thank you Facebook!), I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Fayetteville, Georgia.

Meanwhile, I’d become an avid fan of Chuck Wendig and his blog for at least a year now. He was one of my writing idols because he was doing it. He was writing full time and doing it HIS way. I loved that. Thanks to his blog and his books, I was writing more than ever before. So when I heard he was speaking at the Crossroads Writers Conference in Macon, just two hours away, I had to be there.

But I had no money and no job.

Luckily, Chuck was giving away several tickets randomly to whoever entered that week’s Flash Fiction Challenge on his blog and I managed to win one.

But I didn’t have a ride.

So I started emailing and searching online, looking for someone I could hitch a ride with. I remembered and the fact Chris Baty was keynote speaker at the conference. I logged on, hit the Atlanta region forum and long story short, secured a ride to the conference and made a new friend all at the same time.

God must have been smiling at me or maybe this was a sign from the Universe that writing was my calling, because it was like winning the writers conference jackpot.

Despite my ticket being the basic one-day package, I got invited to the NaNoWriMo meet-up with Chris Baty on Sunday and my friend let me stay in her hotel room for the night (she had gotten the Deluxe Package). I also got to go to the Saturday night reception after the conference. I was able to get over my nerves and have real conversations with full-time published authors and other great people, people doing what I’ve always wanted to do: Chuck Wendig, Adam Mansbach, Robert Venditti, Delilah S Dawson, and many others.

I had a blast and I’m so glad it all worked out in the end, despite not having any money. I kind of wish I had taken more photos to remember it all.

And now it’s over and I’m sitting at the table writing this.

So there you have it, my story.

With lots of love,

Amber J Gardner.



Chuck Wendig’s Talk at Crossroads 2012

So: I also run this blog called “terribleminds.” Is that the word for it? “Run?” I write it? I curate it? Whatever — let’s just go with, “I pull blobs of dubious writing wisdom that get caught in my brain filter and smear them on the Internet’s walls.”

This blog, which is nominally focused on writing, obviously draws a lot of writers of various experience levels — from the never-written to the never-published to the often-published.

The after-after party with Chris Horne, Chuck Wendig, Paul Barrett (photo by Paul Barrett)

And with writers — particularly those from the more inexperienced end of the spectrum — come questions. Questions of how to *do* this thing that we do. Some questions are very specific: how do I make my characters pop, how do I outline, how do I write a query letter?

But then there’s a category of question I like to think of as, “Questions From The Department Of The Overwhelmed, The Bewildered, The Insanely Frustrated.”  These are questions that are *gibbered* more than *asked* — if one were to ask such a question in person it would sound like, “Whuh? How do I… what do I? Wh… where do I begin? How do I start? Muh? Guh?” More a series of squeaks and whimpers that ultimately culminate in communicating a feeling of helplessness, confusion, and abject frustration.

Thing is, I understand this sense of helplessness.

We step up to the blank page — this snowy tract of tabula rasa that hasn’t earned even a single footprint across its virgin expanse — and the potential overwhelms us. Or, it has me, at least — once upon a time upon starting a new story I’d feel like I was standing drunk on the ledge of a skyscraper. Vertigo overwhelming as if even typing one letter would send me dropping down in that cavernous wordless abyss. And this sense of woozy dizzy gonna-fall-itis is compounded by the heavy burden we put upon our own shoulders — that burden of potential, of a story that has all our hopes and dreams shoved into it, a story that to earn its place in our lives must do more than merely exist, a story on which we hang our lives, our careers, our families, our futures, OH MY GOD I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS I CAN’T BREATHE THE PANIC. It’s enough to make you curl up on the bathroom floor and pee your pants.

These stories are like children, in that way — we want everything for them. We with our uttermost desire hope they’ll go out into the world and cure cancer and solve the down economy and grow up rich and happy and maybe be a lawyer, too, and a nuclear physicist, and don’t forget about that litter of hyper-successful darling children and grandchildren, too.

We see our stories like we see our children. We just want the best for them. We want them to be great. We want them to win awards and climb to the top of the bestseller mountain and maybe, just maybe they’ll change somebody’s life and in the process help earn us a big fat sack of cash which will allow us to buy a jet-boat or an oil drum full of 18-year-Scotch or hell, maybe a jet-boat that runs on 18-year-Scotch.

So: this frustration, this wordless soundless exhortation of terror and performance anxiety — I get it.

And to those who have it — and, in fact, to all writers everywhere — I offer a piece of what initially must sound like the most horrible advice in the world:

Care less.

That sounds foolish — we enter into this thing because we love it, because it’s a part of who we are and because it is an expression of our very being.

And yet, my answer remains the same: care less.

Because here’s what you have to understand:

You’re not curing cancer. You’re not disarming a ticking time-bomb. The lives of a hundred adorable schoolchildren do not hinge on the quality of the tale you’re telling.

There’s no real risk to writing except your time. (Well, and maybe your sanity, but let’s be honest — the fact that you chose writing as a profession suggests an already disintegrating mental health score.) In fact, you get as much time as you like. Writing is one of the few careers out there where you can take the time you need to finish the work — and, even then, you have an unlimited number of do-overs and take-backs to fix the story in post. You get your first draft and as many drafts as you need to make the story what you always hoped it would be.

You free yourself by caring less. By dumping the dueling goblins of Fear and Expectation out the back of a C-130 into the mouth of an open and active volcano.

It’s certainly helped me, this attitude. I come to the page knowing I can’t control the publisher, the audience, the sales figures… or the lack of sales figures. I can’t control what editors want, what trends are popular for the next 17 minutes, what the 800-lb gorilla known as “Amazon” is going to do. I can’t control whether Barnes & Noble hangs itself in the hallway closet or whether the Big Six publishers start putting clauses in their contracts about how, upon publication, I am to donate until them my least favorite body part. I can’t control any of that.

I can only control what’s right in front of me. At the start of the day it’s not about fine art. It’s about fingerpainting. It’s about gleefully making mistakes. It’s about letting failure be an instructional manual written in scar tissue. It’s about reducing pressure. It’s about obliterating expectations and unloading the burden. It’s about caring less.

Because when you care less — when it becomes as much play as work, when a bad day of writing doesn’t feel like the fucking apocalypse, when you realize you can jump off the cliff just to see what waits at the bottom — you work better. You work faster. You work in a way that puts you and your story first on the page.

To those who are saying that this *still* sounds like a bad idea, that it seems like instead the answer  would be to care more — after all, how can you possibly care enough? If this is a thing you want to do and a thing you love, well, why not give it all the caring you can possibly muster?

To that I answer: it’s because we can smother the things we love by caring too much. Sometimes you gotta let your kids play in mud. Sometimes you gotta let a dog be a dog. Sometimes you have to let your story just be a story.

So that, I maintain, is my answer to so many writing questions:

Care less.

And write more.


And have fun doing it.

As Seen On Twitter   Wordy South

As Seen On Twitter

The luckiest writers conference in the world got even luckier this year with the best lineup of writers and best group of attendees in our brief life. We couldn’t be happier right now. Here are a few of the highlights… as seen on Twitter.




The Junior League at Burdell-Hunt Elementary for Read for the Record day.

Read for the Record Day at Burdell-Hunt Elementary

This spring, Crossroads was happy to connect with Macon’s chapter of the Junior League. With the support you all have given us, we thought it only fair to help the Junior League with their work to boost literacy rates here, starting at Burdell-Hunt Elementary School.

The day before the conference, they had their “Read for the Record” event and it looks like a success.

Here’s what our friend Julia Wood says:

Hey Chris,

I just wanted to say thank you to Crossroads for your support of Read for the Record today at Burdell-Hunt Elementary School. The children had a great time, and we really appreciate your contribution and the volunteers from Macon State. Here are a few pictures from today.




The Junior League at Burdell-Hunt Elementary for Read for the Record day.


The Junior League at Burdell-Hunt Elementary for Read for the Record day.

The Junior League at Burdell-Hunt Elementary for Read for the Record day.

Robert Venditti

X-O Manoawesome: interview with Robert Venditti

Rachel: How does working in digital, something you did for the first time in The Surrogates: Case Files, change the collaboration of a writer and artist? Is it essentially the same process or are there some aspects that alter? How does it improve upon the traditional methods?

ROBERT VENDITTI: Brett Weldele and I have a done two graphic novels with each other, so our process is pretty established.  It also helps that Brett handles all of the art himself—even the lettering—so it’s really just the two of us working with Chris Staros at Top Shelf (publisher of The Surrogates).  I will say that the content of The Surrogates: Case Files lends itself well to the digital format, and Brett’s style, particularly his unique color palette, really shines on a screen.  There’s this one page in the first issue where he draws a dusting of fall leaves, and the colors really pop.  It’s one of my favorite moments.


Robert with his colleagues Gail Simone and Nathan Edmondson at Crossroads 2011 (Photo: GR Lucas)

Rachel:  You recently began publishing your first month by month, working on X-O Manowar.  How does this sort of quick production and historical sci-fi/fantasy aspect change your style of writing? How does it determine your research process?

VENDITTI: Writing for a monthly book is a big change from the graphic novel writing I’m accustomed to doing.  There are always multiple issues in various stages of production, which took getting used to, since I tend to be a linear writer.  With a monthly book, there’s also a need to reorient the reader every issue—without making it read like you’re reorienting them—and I’m still learning how to do that as effectively as I can.  On the plus side, you have a new book on the shelf every month instead of a graphic novel every other year, so that’s nice.

On the research side, since X-O Manowar has a heavy historical element, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to get the details right, particularly in the opening half of the first issue, where we see the main character as a Visigoth in the 5th Century.  I won’t claim that everything is accurate, but if I got something wrong, it wasn’t for lack of effort.  I spent almost a whole day trying to find out whether or not Visigoth saddles would’ve had stirrups at the Battle of Pollentia.  Historians seem to differ on that point, so I went with no stirrups, since that would look different than every other saddle that’s been drawn in a comic.


Rachel: You have, like a lot of comic writers, a handful of projects going simultaneously.  How do you keep your feet on the ground functioning as a writer in so many worlds?  What is something that you do to keep yourself present for the stories as individual worlds?

VENDITTI: I divide my days up into even chunks, working on a separate project for a couple of hours at a time, so I’m always moving ahead on everything at once.  At least that’s my plan.  Inevitably, something of the this-needs-to-be-done-right-now variety comes up, and the day gets blown apart.  The alternative method would be to not have a plan and let each day decide for itself what you’re going to work on, but of course when you do that, nothing happens and you end up wasting a day.  So I start each day with a plan, and even though I know going in the plan isn’t going to be followed, I allow myself to hope that it will.  I’m an eternal optimist.


Rachel: X-O Manowar has been described as “the cornerstone of the Valiant brand”(Simons, CBR).  With the challenge of producing a month by month for the first time while this precedent exists… how’s that pressure treating you?  What’s something you do to wind down in the midst of such a wild schedule?

VENDITTI: Honesty, I try not to think about things like that.  If I considered it my responsibility to make X-O Manowar the “cornerstone of the Valiant brand,” I’d probably freeze up at the keyboard.  I just try to write the best comics I can the way I write them, and hope the audience will respond positively.  Thankfully, things have gone well so far, but with a monthly book you’re only as good as the latest issue, so there’s no time to rest on your laurels.

As for winding down . . . I do anything that has nothing to do with writing.  But it all makes its way back to the page in one way or another.  All writing is autobiographical in the sense that it’s made from the writer’s influences and experiences, so on days—and there’s plenty of them—when the words just don’t seem to come, I go out and make some of those experiences.


Rachel:  It’s been said that The Surrogates “reads like Philip K. Dick writing an episode for The Wire” (i09).  In my book, that is some damn fine praise!  How do you continue to push yourself to kick it up to the next level or is it a “slow and steady wins the race” game?  Do you pay much attention to your reviews (I mean other than when an interviewer forces you too) or do you find it distracting?

VENDITTI: I’d like to say I don’t read reviews, but it’s hard to ignore them.  Especially in the digital age, when reviews are posted online in advance of the book’s release, so for a week or so, they’re the only response that’s out there in the world.  I try not to get too wrapped up in them, though.  I just keep my head down and do what I think a story needs.  Whether I’m successful in the end is up to each individual reader to decide for themselves.


Rachel:  Your work seems to push toward the “new.” How do you find your challenges and adapt to a changing marketplace?  What would you say has been your most valuable learning experience over the years and what is one challenge you have on your mental list that remains unchecked?

VENDITTI: I make a conscious effort to do something different with each new project.  So far in my career, I’ve written cyberpunk sci-fi (The Surrogates), political/medical thriller (The Homeland Directive), middle-grade fantasy (the adaptations of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), young-adult vampire romance (the adaptation of the Blue Bloods novel), and now with X-O Manowar, mainstream superhero comics.  A lot of people will say you should brand yourself with a particular genre and build your career from there, but if I did that, I think I’d feel like I was in a rut.  Changing things up keeps me engaged with the story.

As for challenges I’d still like to tackle, writing a prose novel is definitely at the top of the list.



Q&A: Carrie Howland, Agent, Donadio & Olson, Inc.

If you missed Carrie the first time, don’t worry because she’s back for Crossroads 2013! Click here to register:

The Mind of an Agent: Chatting with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson

Chris: I’m always curious about how people end up where they are. How’d you become an agent? Had you always set out to do it, or did you happen into it?

Carrie: I grew up in a small town in Michigan where an ‘agent’ was someone who sold you insurance. I attended a private liberal arts school for undergrad, on Biology/Environmental Research and Pre-Med Scholarships. (I’m probably one of the few literary agents who has taken, and passed, two semesters of Organic Chemistry.) The ‘mistake’ of course was taking Creative Writing 101 to fulfill an art requirement. I’d always loved to write and began reading (more like devouring) books at the age of three, much to the chagrin of my kindergarten teacher who didn’t know what to do with me two years later. After declaring a Creative Writing major, I still fulfilled all my Pre-Med requirements (and even added Pre-Law, ‘just to be safe’). Then I decided to spend a semester off-campus. By this time, I’d become the Poetry Editor of our campus literary journal (which drew submissions from across the country) as well as a reporter for the campus newspaper. So, to me, it made sense to study ‘abroad’…in New York City. I asked to be placed at a publishing house as an editorial intern or at a literary journal. My NY program advisor called one day and, in the thickest New York accent I’d ever heard, and asked if I’d like to interview at a literary agency. I said, “Yes, absolutely!” then immediately got off the phone to Google ‘Literary Agent.’ In the end, I landed the internship at a well-known boutique agency with one of the most impressive client lists I’d ever seen. The agency was Donadio & Olson, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history…

Chris: WHY are you an agent? Why do it? Certainly there have be headaches here and there, troubles and whatnot. So what makes you get up in the morning and keep at it?

Carrie: I went into publishing because I couldn’t think of a better job than getting paid to read amazing books for a living. I decided to become an agent because I wanted that close, personal relationship with the authors. I like to say that I represent an author’s career, not just his or her book. I’m fortunate enough to work with my writers in every aspect of their careers, from editing to publicity and more. There’s nothing more fulfilling than discovering a new writer and knowing that you had an integral part in getting that first book published, and establishing a career. So what makes me get up in the morning? My authors. Bob Dylan said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that Mr. Dylan is referring to literary agents here…

Chris: What traits do you, an agent, think make an agent good? How do you think that differs from what writers are sometimes looking for?

Carrie: I’ve always said that the two best traits I possess as an agent are: the mind of a poet and the work ethic of a Midwesterner. I represent literary fiction, and some non-fiction, so I love beautiful writing. I often say that my ideal book would be a novel written by a poet. In addition, I write poetry, not fiction, which enables me to separate my own writing from what I do day-to-day. I think it’s helpful to have the distinction so as not to feel burned out in either genre. And aside from a love of writing, to be a good agent, you have to work. A lot. There’s no other way to say it. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job, being an agent probably isn’t for you. I spend evenings reading, weekends at book fairs and conferences, lunches with authors and editors, I even read submissions on the elliptical at the gym. I absolutely love my job, so it rarely feels like work. Along those lines, I always tell my authors, “I can’t want it more than you do.” Basically, I need them to put in the same kind of dedication to their work. I suppose not all agents harass their clients about keeping up with social media, attending book events (apart from their own), even what they’re working on next, but I do. It’s my job to build an author’s career, which means developing all aspects from writing to public image. I’m definitely a hands-on agent, so if an author is looking for someone to check in with from time-to-time, we probably won’t be a good match.

Chris: You seem to have a lot of fondness for the writers you work with, so… What do you, as an agent, look for in a writer? What about as a reader? Is there any difference?

Carrie: It’s true; I adore all of my writers. I never take on a book or author that I’m not completely passionate about. I touched on this a bit before, but I look for beautiful writing. It’s my personal opinion that, you can either write, or you can’t, and while that craft can be honed, it can’t necessarily be taught. Despite the exorbitant amount of submissions we get on a daily basis, not everyone is a writer. Just like not everyone can be a model. (I know how it feels—I’m only 5’3.) In addition to style, I look for a strong voice. I believe that if the voice is strong, the reader will follow it anywhere. So, when I see a manuscript that’s beautifully written, with a strong voice, I’m of course drawn to it. Other issues, like plot, character development, etc. come in to play as well, but to some degree, those can be fixed. I don’t expect a manuscript to be perfect when I receive it. In fact, I expect that it won’t be. This isn’t to say that a writer shouldn’t be submitting the best possible manuscript, but if there are issues that I think we can solve together, I’ll work with a writer to get that done. Again, I’m a hands-on agent. My writers often go through several drafts with me before we submit their manuscripts to editors. But I think you’re doing your clients a disservice by not sending out the most polished draft possible. And because of this back-and-forth, I look for an author with a good attitude, someone I can develop a good rapport with, who will listen to my notes and, while I don’t expect that he or she take every single one, will thoughtfully consider them. I also look for writers who, as I said before, are just as committed to their careers as I am. I want writers who will do everything possible to, along with my help, promote themselves and their work.

Chris: You brought up something interesting in an earlier email that maybe doesn’t get asked enough: Why get an agent at all?

Carrie: Of course the simple answer to this question is, “Because you have to.” But I remember being on that side of the “Because I told you so.” conversation with my mom growing up, so let me explain. In order to submit to a major publisher, you need to have an agent. Most publishing houses simply don’t accept un-agented queries. One of the many jobs I have as an agent is to get to know these publishing houses and the editors who work there. By developing these relationships, I know who would be the right editor for a particular book, and that editor knows that I represent quality writers, and won’t waste his or her time on something that I don’t think would be right for that particular list. Agents are also, for lack of a better term, filters. We weed through the hundreds of manuscripts we see and show only the best to these editors. You might say we’re on the frontlines of publishing. (It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) Beyond the ‘Because I said so.’ argument, what is the benefit to you? There are countless benefits, really. Initially, you have a professional to help you polish your manuscript. You also have, generally, the backing of an agency which may have a lot of history, as mine does, which means people know of it, and they pay attention to our submissions and our authors. When it comes time to negotiations, agents play a huge part. We have the knowledge and background of years of book deals and hundreds of contracts. We know how to negotiate higher advances, what rights to hold back in order to make the client even more money, and what language in a contract might affect the author negatively in the future. We work for you. Some people ask, “Why give a percentage of my earnings to an agent?” My answer is always, “Because you can’t afford not to.” I almost always earn back my commission, and then some, meaning an author still ends up making more money than he or she would have without an agent, and the job is done for you. Basically, your agent is there to do all the legwork, negotiating, and even schmoozing so you can focus on what you do best: writing.

Chris: We typically put more emphasis at the conference on “getting the writing done” than getting published, but clearly we want people to get published, or at least read. When does a writer know they’re “ready” for an agent?

Carrie: In my opinion, most writers are ready for an agent at least one or two drafts after they think they are. Meaning, take your time. You don’t have to, nor should you, send out your novel the second you type that last word. Give it to friends you trust (other writers, former workshop companions, an old professor, etc.). And take some time away from it. I always tell writers to put their novels in a drawer for a month, then come back to them. You’ll have a fresh perspective and undoubtedly see things that you never saw before. You’ll have that ‘Aha!’ moment where you’ll say to yourself, “How could I have considered sending this out without changing___?” Of course, all that being said, don’t tinker. A few drafts, a month away, these are good things. But if you get to the point where you’re adding and deleting the same line for a week straight, it’s probably time to start submitting to agents.

Chris: What should a writer do to find out if they’re ready? And when they’re ready, what should their first move be?

Carrie: Again, if you’ve accomplished what I’ve mentioned above, you’re probably ready to submit. My recommendation: take that month while your novel is settling in the drawer to begin your agent research. That has to be your first step: research. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to submit your novel blindly to one hundred agencies. So much information is available online now, finding an agent that aligns with your work is easier than ever. One bit of advice that I love to give: check the backs of your favorite books and see which agents are acknowledged there. Chances are, if you have five favorite writers, those you feel your work most resembles, or those writers you feel most influenced by, those agents are a good place to start. And of course, there’s nothing an agent loves more than his or her authors, so knowing that you like them, too, always hits a sweet spot. It also lets us know that you’ve done your research. I love to get queries from writers that say, this book by your author is one of my favorites and so I thought you’d like my novel. Don’t, however, throw in any name just to have it there. I’ll know that your work isn’t similar to a certain author when I start reading your manuscript and it’s nothing like that author’s book. For example, if that author writes literary fiction and your novel is a commercial thriller, it doesn’t bode well for your research. Along those lines, look at the genres each agent represents. If you have an amazing idea for a cookbook, that’s great, but don’t waste your time, a stamp, etc. sending it to me, because I simply won’t know what to do with it. There are agents for everything; you just have to look.

Chris: Can you describe what the “courting process” is between an agent and a writer? Any stories from personal experience you care to share?

Carrie: Well, I like flowers, chocolates, and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi (you laugh, but it’s REALLY hard to find here!). But seriously, what you can expect is that you’ll query an agent, he or she will get back saying to send the full manuscript, or that it simply isn’t a good match. Once you’ve sent the manuscript: be patient. We read so much that to think you’ll get a response in a few days just isn’t reasonable. That’s not to say that you can’t ever follow-up with an agent, but I really wouldn’t suggest doing it before a month has passed. If I like your work, I’ll likely contact you with questions like, “Are you open to edits?” and give you a basic idea of what I’m thinking. Then, once we both decide that we’re on the same page, I’ll make an offer of representation and hope that you’ll accept! I suggest always mentioning in a query if you’re giving an exclusive look or whether you’re querying other agents, which of course is totally fine. I expect that you’re going out to several agents at once, because it does take time, and you don’t want two years to go by before you find an agent. If you do receive an offer of representation, get in touch with those other agents. Don’t simply fall off the radar. If an agent has taken the time to read your work, do the polite thing and let them know that you’ve had an offer. This also gives the agent a chance to offer you representation as well, and you may find that the second or third offer is actually a better fit. And it should be a good fit on both ends, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ideally, you’ll have one agent for your entire career, so choose wisely!

Chris: There are some predatory types out there in Internetland, folks who promise the sun and moon in addition to publication. How should writers protect themselves? What should they be looking out for?

Carrie: I’m not sure where all the modeling analogies are coming from, but a friend once told me that the answer to this question is akin to how to deal with the guy at the mall who says he can make you a model, but that you have to pay him thousands of dollars upfront. A real agent will never (ever) ask for any kind of money from you. We can’t. We’re bound by certain rules laid out by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) that dictate these things. It says we can’t charge reading fees, for example. However, not all agents are members of the AAR, so that’s always a good thing to check. If they’re a member, you know they’re in good standing, and can generally be trusted. Of course the best way to protect yourself as a writer is to, again, do your research. See who else they represent, or what other authors the agency represents. Does the agent/agency have a good track record and a solid list of authors? Our agency has been around for over forty years, and we represent some of the top writers in the world. Our reputation is very important to us, as it is to the editors we work with, and the authors we represent. An agency with a good reputation is so important, because they are your image to the world. Go with someone you’d be proud to have represent you.

Chris: What do you read–genres, formats, etc., as well as specific writers, publications, etc.–when you’re not wearing your agent hat? Do you ever not wear your agent hat?

Carrie: This is sort of like that music question. “I listen to a little bit of everything—except country.” That’s true for me, except that I also love country. (Dolly Parton, anyone?) That is to say, while I have my favorites, I try to read a little bit of everything. I’m not sure that I’m ever ‘not wearing my agent hat.’ But I think a good agent should read everything. I believe that you have no room to judge a book or a writer you haven’t read. So, while I’m always drawn to literary fiction, it’s what I love, I also read the more commercial books that tend to show up on the New York Times Bestseller list. As an agent, it’s important for me to know what’s selling, and why.

Chris: Why in the world would you say yes to a weekend with us here? Are you insane?

Carrie: I asked an agent friend to answer this question for me and his response was, “my best friends would happily agree that I’m insane.” Haha. Thanks so much, Chris! I hope all this is helpful! I’m really looking forward to the conference!



Delilah S Dawson: The advice would I give myself if I could go back in time…

We tasked the awesome and cool Delilah S. Dawson with applying her ample imagination to this question: If you could go back in time to the very start of your writing career, what advice would you give yourself?

Considering how far this Pocket/Simon & Schuster published author of “Wicked as They Come” and associated editor for has come, we thought it was a perfect question to have her answer.

When you come to the conference, you’ll be treated to more of Delilah’s insight (she may or may not wave a cupcake). Specifically, she’s going to speak on being “shipwrecked” as a writer and what to do with yourself while you’re waiting on your writing ship to come.

Until then… enjoy!



Christina Ranallo: Write a Book No One Can Put Down

You are in the middle of novel, you dive deep into the plot with a character you care about, worry about, maybe even fantasize about and you carry that book around rife with the anticipation of opening page after page to more scenes, more succulent words to bring you deeper, closer to the resolution you (and that character) long for.

You hear your stop coming up, and you leave the book on the train. Didn’t it feel like you left somebody on the train?


No matter who is the main character in your novel, the symbols of your own life and experience come through. The same positive and negative extremes you apply to your own ethics and morals will be the ones your characters embrace. It is as inevitable as what you see in the mirror. That’s why the hero’s journey is more than a model for writing; it’s a model for life. A reflection of life. And because of that it breathes life into your writing.

Joseph Campbell studied and taught religion and mythology for decades and his remarkable book, The Hero of a Thousand Faces is the basis for what writers and psychologists call the hero’s journey. Campbell recognized the commonality of all myths no matter where in the world they originated. There is universal phenomenon of any story that follows the hero’s journey.

It’s the book we can’t leave behind.