Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Out There

As most of you probably know, Firebrand Literary is running a "Query Holiday" until January 15th. Basically, you don't have to write a query; they just want to see your first chapter. Since writers pretty much universally agree that writing a query letter falls somewhere between biting into one of those hard things in a hamburger and a colonoscopy on the Things I Really Enjoy Scale, everyone, including, I think, this girl, has sent them a submission. (Geesh, that's a lotta commas. I must have done something wrong there. Go 'head, grammar Nazis, have at it!)

If you don't believe me, check out agent Nadia Cornier's Twitter. They've received 1,750 of the things. For those of you who are curious, but too lazy to do the math, that's an average of about 100 per day. And there's still half of January to go.

I debated whether or not to send them my first chapter of the middle grade novel I have completed. On the one hand, since Firebrand pledged to read these things by February 1 (a Herculean task it would now seem) I figured it might be smarter to wait and submit to them in the conventional way because when you have to read about 100 first chapters a day to keep your pledge, how much time and attention can you really devote to each one? I've been on interview committees where the stack of applicants was nowhere near the glut of email subs these agents are going to have to work through, and I can tell you that we spent very little time scanning resumes in order to whittle that pile.

On the other hand, I didn't have to write a query letter.

So of course, I submitted.

Sent the thing last night and received my confirmation email sometime thereafter. So my baby is all grown up and she's left the house. She's out in the great, big, scary world. If you see her, please be gentle.

Gentlemen (and ladies), start your rejections!

New feature. At the end of my blog posts I will now be including LITERARY WISDOM OF THE DAY. Basically, I have a lot of books I'll never read again. I've decided to put them to use by sharing the wisdom between their cheap covers. Today's literary wisdom comes from the book Motley Crue: The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band.

While I was on my own, I tried to avoid two things: One was listening to any John Corabi songs, which wasn't difficult since they were never on the radio anyway. The other was my own press clippings.

--Neil, p. 285

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


If you're like me and you read lots of writer and agent blogs, you've probably already seen this because it was linked to on Swivet. It was originally posted for public consumption (and mockery) by Jodi Meadows, an intern for agent Jenny Rappaport, on her livejournal. It is a query letter from some delu--I mean, aspiring writer--seeking representation (I guess. It never exactly asks for this). The dude writes:


Now the reason I am sharing this gem with you is to first, ridicule it, and second, share its genius with you, my loyal readers (now numbering two, I think).

Eh, on second thought, let's skip the ridicule part. It would be fun, but a little too easy. Instead, let me tell you why I love the above and why Ms. Rappaport probably did miss out on the next JK Rowling (or better, right?)

First, you have a writer here who knows how to write an arresting first line. Not only that, he knows what this business is all about. This is clearly someone an agent should be interested in. Unless the agent doesn't want to make money, I guess.

Then there's the second sentence, "I lost everything I own because of a lie." If that doesn't make the reader ask questions, I don't know what will. I must read on. "My writing is great if you have imagination." Has a truer statement ever been made? Isn't this true of all great writing?

The next sentence is my favorite and demonstrates how profound this writer can be. "Guidelines are for the uncreative." I'm making that my new mantra. I may even rename the blog GUIDELINES ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE. I'm going to make it my mission in life (okay, the next couple of days) to post this on as many blogs and message boards as I can.

"My novels are sci-fi-fantasy-coping." Here we have a writer who is willing to forge new ground. A pioneer who will not be trapped in the status quo of the publishing industry's established genres. After all, GUIDELINES (and genres) ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE.

And lastly, "If you are a real agent, you can get me the book deal I want." That's right, brother. You tell 'em. After all, if Jodi Reamer can make a millionaire out of Stephenie Meyer, then shouldn't any agent worth her salt be able to take whatever genius the author of this email must have surely written and get him the book deal he wants? I mean, I don't know about you, but for me Sci-Fi-Fantasy-Coping anything beats glittery, controlling vampires every time.

Overall, it's a stellar query. Short and to the point. There is not a wasted word to be found. It's attention grabbing with its unconventional use of all caps and it gives us a glimpse into this writer's style (and severly scarred heart and soul). Finally, the query ends with a challenge and what serious agent can resist that?

Monday, December 29, 2008

This Must Be Said

I have been trying to read other blogs recently. I do this for four reasons:

1. To find something amusing. I mostly read to be entertained, in print and online.
2. To learn something about writing and/or the increasingly baffling (to me at least) world of publishing.
3. Because I think it's polite to check out the blogs of anyone who bothers to read and comment on the drivel I spew forth on this blog.
4. Because if I comment on another blog, that increases the chances that someone will read my fabulous comment, wonder about the fabulous mind behind the fabulous comment, and visit my (fabulous) blog.

Now there is something that must be said. In my travels across this great electronic landscape known as the Webosphere, I have come across a disturbing trend. Some of my fellow bloggers, most of whom claim to be writers, are doing very little actual writing on their blogs.

I understand the excuses. I have and will use these same excuses myself. Too little time, nothing to say, I was tired, and my personal favorite because it's just dripping with manure, "I've been too busy with my writing to blog much."

Come on folks. You are writers. The least you could do is write a little something a couple of times a week. And if you really do have nothing to say, or you really are too busy, or you really are on vacation, or even (ahem) you really are so into your current WIP that you just don't have the time, inclination, or creative fuel left to blog, then please, for the love of all that is holy and just, do not involve yourself in The YouTube Post.

Don't get me wrong. I like YouTube. There's some funny stuff on there. I don't even mind coming across YouTube videos on the blogs I read (although I rarely click them). But it is not, and I repeat, especially if you're a writer, cool to go a whole week posting nothing but YouTube videos and offering absolutely no commentary other than something lame like, "Check this out. It's funny" or the ubiquitous "You can thank me later."

You are writers. Act like it.

Yeah. This is how I roll.
You can all thank me later.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Holiday Acceptance

Just received my fourth acceptance yesterday. I was a little surprised because I figured with the holiday season, I wouldn't hear anything on my last batch of submissions until mid-January. It's for a poem called "Tombstone" and was accepted by PKA's Advocate publication, a newsletter of sorts that gives unpublished writers a chance to get their work out there. They printed one of my poems, "House Warming" in their December 08/January 09 issue and they've accepted one other poem, "House of Fallen Branches" for future publication.

If you'd like to support these worthy folks, Advocate is available through the US mail. Individual issues will cost you four bucks or you can get six consecutive (one year's worth) issues for $16.50. Just write your request and send it to:

PKA's Advocate
1881 Little Westkill Road
Prattsville, NY 12468

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Haiku, Carbonite, and Holey Fonts, Batman!

First off, let me offer an apology to the (zero) readers of this blog. Yesterday morning caught me in a bit of an irascible mood and instead of delaying my blogging until later at night when I am typically much more witty (used here as a synonym for hilarious), I let it get the best of me and wrote that rather crotchety thing about first lines. Sorry. I get that way. Unfortunately, as my blog is a reflection of me, you get the good with the bad (by which I mean the witty with the pissy attitude of a scorned thirteen year old girl).

Now, on to today's brain turds.

Last week I entered a haiku contest on agent Rachelle Gardner's blog. Yesterday, I learned that, while I didn't make her list of finalists, I did receive an honorable mention of sorts. Like fellow blogette, Carrie Harris, Rachelle decided to give recognition to just about everyone who entered. My haiku,

Oh, blue screen of death
You vex me with your timing
I forgot to save
received the much coveted "Best Description of a Writer's Biggest Fear" award. That's right. Eat that. Two kind-of-"almosts" in less than a week. Do you feel me knocking closed and dead bolted portal to the publishing world?

I'd also like to take this space to promote a business. In the interest of full disclosure, I have no connection whatsoever to this business. In fact, I have no connections whatsoever to anything, so don't bother with the accusations of a conflict of interest. While I am occasionally conflicted, I rarely have much interest.

The business is called Carbonite and it offers online backup of the files on your hard drive. I heard it advertised on the radio and it caught my interest for two reasons. First, a while back my own hard drive went kaput and I lost a lot of my writing files as well as my record of submissions. (So to anybody who gets something from me that seems a little familiar, sorry 'bout that.) Second, the name struck me as odd. It didn't sound very computery, onliney, or storagey. So I thought about it a little more and it hit me (as it probably already has you). Carbonite is the stuff Han Solo is frozen in in Empire Strikes Back. And that's when I decided this is probably the coolest company ever.

Lastly, have you heard of holey fonts? Apparently, some Dutch company, in an effort to reduce costs, has developed a font that has holes in it. This font, called "Ecofont," cuts ink usage by 15 percent. You can see it here: Ecofont

Coupla thoughts. First, I think my favorite unintended consequence of the Green movement is how companies who cut corners to save money, claim to cut corners to save the environment. I'm waiting for the day when a company announces lay-offs with the explanation that having fewer employees will allow them to save on energy costs and thereby lesson the company's carbon footprint. Second, the font looks sort of sweet. It could be used on a disco club's marquee. If they could get the little holes to move, they'd really have something. However, somehow I don't think there will be too many agents and editors asking, in the interest of, ya know, saving the planet, that they'd like to see more submissions in Ecofont. Of course, I could be wrong. Crazier things have happened.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Attacking the CW---First Lines

This is the first in a new series, Attacking the CW, where I take a look at what is considered to be conventional wisdom (CW) in the word of publishing and tell you why it's questionable. If you spend any time at all on writer message boards or attend conferences or read agent/editor blogs, you will find certain "wisdom" trumpeted again and again. It is my firm belief that most of it is the result of groupthink. Here's how that works:

1. Successful agent (or editor, or author) says or writes about a personal preference they have, such as, "Good characters must have flaws." They may or may not support this statement with any evidence or examples.
2. Because of the status of the above, other agents, editors, and aspiring authors hear this statement and repeat it over and over again until people just sort of accept that good characters must have flaws.
3. Result: the CW that good characters must have flaws is established and to write a character without a flaw is to brand yourself an amateur hack.

You can find more on groupthink here: Stuff about groupthink, but I think this sums it up pretty well:

Groupthink is a concept that was identified by Irving Janis that refers to faulty decision-making in a group. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all alternatives and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.

Now to questioning the popular belief that first lines have to induce in the reader some sort of hypnotic trance whereby the reader is so enchanted, so "pulled in to the story," that he could not possibly conceive of putting the story down even if his house was on fire.

First, you may be tempted to question whether or not this advice about first lines is, in fact, conventional wisdom. If so, do a quick google search. I searched "writing first lines" and received 13.5 million hits. By comparison, "writing endings" will get you about 2.5 million. If you take a look at any of these links you will see that there are contests for writing great first lines, there are message board posts written by writers who are near tears because they just can't write that first line. There are writers who lament that they'll never be able to write their novel because the whole thing flows from that first line and, damn it all to hell!, they just can't come up with one.

It's all a bunch of hooey. And I will now prove it. Below I have listed the first lines of some very good novels. Award-winning novels. Without using The Google, see how many you can name and then ask yourself, how important to the overall story was that first line? Ask yourself, based only on this first line, do I absolutely have to read more? Ask yourself, if I was running a first line contest on my blog, would any of these even get a second glance? And finally ask yourself, should I just accept it as truth that first lines have to be everything people make them out to be?

  • A mouse was looking at Mario.
  • Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.
  • Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty, and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow loveable.
  • It was Sunday after church and all my chores were done.
  • Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law.
  • Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true.
  • Dusk--of a summer night.

Now, it should be understood that just because the CW is wrong does not mean it isn't good advice. I like flawed characters. But that does not mean that all important characters must have flaws. I like a compelling first line, but that does not mean that you can't write a great book without one.

In the interest of fairness, I should also state that most of the books I looked at did indeed have a very good opening line and let me repeat, I like that. But just because I like it and just because a lot of readers like it (and one must ask if we've been conditioned to like it, mustn't one?) and just because agents like it, does not mean that a book must have one. Is it a good way to start, sure, but it shouldn't be a litmus test used to weed out good stories from those that are not.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Following Good Advice

I was checking out my favorite writing links (found at right) and stumbled across some helpful advice with respect to what content an unpublished writer should have on his or her Web site. Now, this isn't technically a Web site (because that would cost, ya know, money), but I'm essentially using it for the same purpose. And that purpose is, of course, to entertain and enlighten the masses (and also impress other writers who will then tell their agents how awesome I am, which will of course lead to said agents getting in cat fights over which of them will have the honor of representing me) The advice was posted on a very helpful site called Editorial Anonymous.

It said this:

Your website, in the very lucky event that an editor decides to look you up, should tell the editor more about who you are as a person-- your other pursuits, anything that makes you particularly well suited to write for kids, your sense of humor, that sort of thing. Your website is a chance to make the editor think, "I like this person. She seems pleasant and fun, and not needy, neurotic, or crazy. I might enjoy working with her."

Now, I'm a sucker for good advice, so let me address the above.

Dear Editor,

My name is Paul Michael Murphy and I am not needy, crazy, or neorotic. Well okay, I'm a little neurotic, but my neuroses are limited to very specific areas of my life. For example, I always, always order four hot mustards with my Chicken McNuggets because I like to dip my fries in it. And when I eat this meal, I take a bite of McNugget followed by two French fries, round and round, until I have just one bite of McNugget and two French fries left. But other than that, I'm pretty normal.

Now, as for "other pursuits," a few times a year I try to break my previous scoring record (126 points, six minute quarters) in NCAA Football 07 on my X-Box. I also once had the goal of reading all 100 of The Modern Library's 100 Best Novels. I read 29, and for the record, I'm voting Portnoy's Complaint number 1 because it was the funniest. I used to enjoy pursuing females, except that I never really actually "pursued" them. I mostly stood in the corner with my guy friends and tried to look cool while hoping that a hot girl would approach me. Eventually, the hot girl interned in the classroom next to mine during my first year of teaching and I ended up marrying her. If you think this was inappropriate, let me assure you that it was not. First, it was during the Clinton years. Second, she wasn't my intern. And third, I waited until the term was finished and she moved to another school before asking her out. As for other pursuits, I like sports, but I no longer "pursue" them much. Mostly I just watch them on TV.

You will be interested to know that I am particularly suited to write for kids for three reasons.
  1. I've been teaching them for the past nine years.
  2. I have a child of my own.
  3. I used to be one.
I'd say these reasons qualify me to write for kids just as much as being a Mormon stay-at-home mom qualifies Stephenie Meyer to write about glittery vampires.

As for my sense of humor, allow me to share with you my favorite joke:

There are three men flying on a plane. The first one is a basketball player. The second is a football player. The third is a soldier. The basketball player throws his basketball off the plane then jumps after it on a parachute. Then the football player throws his football off the plane and jumps after it on a parachute. Then the soldier throws a grenade off the plane and jumps after it on a parachute. On the ground, the basketball player is walking down a street and sees a boy crying. He asks the boy, "Why are you crying?" and the boy says, "A basketball fell from the sky and hit me on the head." The football player is also walking down the street and sees a boy crying. He asks the boy "Why are you crying?" and the boy says, "A football fell from the sky and hit me on the head." The soldier comes walking down the street and sees a boy laughing hysterically. He asks the boy, "Why are you laughing?" and the boy answers, "Because I farted and my house blew up!"

I'd say that pretty much explains the kind of stuff I find funny.

I will now patiently await your frantic attempts to sign me to a massive, multi-book contract.


Paul Michael Murphy

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Almost Won a Contest

Oh, so close. I spend too much time at Verla's and I like to click on the writers' links to their blogs just to see who they are and whether or not they're published and, ya know, if they'd be willing to take a look at my manuscript and maybe tell their agent how awesome I am. I also like to read stuff that's funny. And one blog that I find rather amusing is Carrie Harris's blog. Go ahead, click the color-of-Michigan-winters words. It's called a "link" and through the magic of the Interwebs you will be transported to her little nook of the webosphere.

I found her blog because she was running a title contest and I'm a sucker for titles. And contests. So I entered. She was looking for punny titles having to do with the brain and did I mention that I'm a sucker for puns?

So I entered a couple of titles and thought, ya know, they weren't too b.a.d.

FAST FORWARD--> Forgot about the contest. Went to work. Wrote. Revised. Blah, blah, boring blah... and then, as I was once again checking out a blog I found via Verla's very helpful site, I ran across an entry in which the author, one Susan Sandmore (who, by the way, is mentioned in the "I want to thank the Academy" section of Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect, a book which I had just finished reading (for the second time) earlier that same day---oh the tangled webs!) celebrated the fact that she had won the very contest I had forgotten about.

So of course I was at first chagrined that my very clever titles did not garner the much coveted prize, but I sucked it up and went back over to Carrie's to see what all she had to say. My hopes once again rose (only to be dashed?) as I saw that Ms. Harris had decided to hand out more awards than an end-of-year Little League banquet. And there, near the bottom, was my name. Well, almost. She got my last name wrong, but if you click on it you will be taken (could it possibly be true?) right here to this very blog. How 'bout that webosphere!

I was awarded one of two runners up recognitions and Ms. Harris had some very nice things to say (so I feel a little guilty about pointing out her typo, but not guilty enough to go back up and delete it). And so I thought it would be nice of me to mention her and her blog here so that all of my (zero) readers could check it out. That, and it gave me a great excuse to name drop, which might just drive a few more people to read the junk that travels from my brain to my finger tips and out to the world at large.

It's sort of like fishing, but not with a rod and reel. No, more like fishing with a net. An Internet.

New Story

With my YA needing time to marinate and my MG needing a new ending which I still don't want to tackle, I turned to starting a new story. I've been reading (again) The Tale of Despereaux to my class and so have been in a very fairy tale frame of mind. (I've also been in a second person POV frame of mind, but I've repressed the urge to write that way) A week or so ago I read many of the first para entries on Agent Bransford's blog contest and for some reason one of them (well really just part of one of them) got stuck in whichever part of my brain that remembers stuff. It was something about an ugly princess and I liked that idea. So I stole it. That's what we writers do.

---TANGENT ALERT---if you don't believe me and think I'm some unscrupulous hack, let me provide the following "evidence." I'm a big Kate DiCamillo fan (see above) and I've read her bio and watched online interviews and done all sorts of stalker-like stuff, and one tidbit I ran across is that she was inspired to write after reading CPC's The Watsons Go To Birmingham. Well, in Watsons, CPC uses an analogy about missing something being like sticking your tongue in the open space where a tooth used to be (he puts it better than this). Careful readers of Because of Winn-Dixie (and that would include me--I read it to my class every year) know that Ms. Kate, God love her, uses pretty much the exact same simile in her debut novel. Now I'm not pointing this out to accuse of her plagiarism (Truthfully, I'm not even sure one stolen simile counts) but only to assure you that this creative, uh, borrowing is done quite often. Stephen King essentially admits ripping off his idea for The Stand from someone other book (too lazy to google which one right now).

So I stole this ugly princess idea and I tossed in some other interesting characters: a slovenly King, a Queen of staggering vanity, and an alien whom I named PG-13. I've tried to give it a fairy tale feel. Last night I started the story. I wrote one page. That's it, just one page, but it's a pretty decent page.

I might post it on here later this week. Then all of you will have something of mine to, uh, borrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tired Jokes

So I've been rereading and revising UP NORTH for probably the seventh or eighth time and I've run into a problem. Stale jokes. One of the reasons the first draft flew by so quickly was because I was making myself chuckle every other paragraph. When I read it aloud to my wife, I did so with the delivery of a stand-up comic and smiled inwardly every time she giggled, snickered, and even scoffed or sighed. Now, after reading the same old jokes over and over again, none of it is funny. I can see how it could be funny. You know. To someone who hasn't read it before. But none of it is funny to me. It's like watching the same Seinfeld episode over and over and over again. I'm interested to see how other writers who do humor handle this problem. My guess is that I should probably stick it in a drawer somewhere for a while and read it again in three months. I'm just afraid I might never think it's funny again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pub Credit #2

I now officially have two publishing credits. A while back I had two poems accepted by PKA's Advocate and I've been patiently waiting for my complimentary copies to come in the mail ever since. Since they only publish six times a year, I was prepared for a long wait.

Well, part of that wait is over. The first accepted poem, "House Warming," appears in the December 08/January 09 issue. It's on page 2. It is not a paying market, but I did get two free copies and it does count as a credit. Plus, since they only buy first rights, I can still sell the poem to another publication. I've got about 10 poems out on submission right now, but when I hear back I'll probably send the poem to some of the bigger markets.

The bad news is that I'm running out of things to look forward to. PKA has one more poem which they could publish as early as February, but after that nothing is awaiting publication. Here's hoping something that's making the rounds gets accepted.

Friday, December 5, 2008

This Week

I did well this week. As you can see on the right, I spent the week revising (for the third time officially, but since I revise just about every time I work on a manuscript, who's to say how many) UP NORTH: THE VACATION JOURNAL OF FINLEY S. PATTERSON. Careful readers will note that the title changed this week. The character's last name was originally JACOBSON, but since Jacobson is a very Jewish sounding surname and since I am the least Jewish person I know, and also since the character is in no way meant to be Jewish, I thought a name change would be best. And, as it turns out, I like Patterson just fine, thank you.

Revising for me takes many forms. First, there's the stuff that I just change on the screen when I read through what I previously wrote. These are mostly things like word changes, occasional sentence structure, and punctuation (especially commas, oh how I loathe the comma). Then, when I finally finish that first draft (and all the revisions included therein) I print out a hard copy, single-spaced, and I put it in a red three-ring binder so that it sort of resembles a book.

Once in the binder, I try to let the thing marinate for a few weeks, but this really depends on what else I have in progress. When I pick it up again, I try to read it as though it is new. This is damn near impossible, which is why I eventually ask others to read the thing.

As I read through this first time, I cross things out, change things, draw arrows to reorganize, fix typos, write questions to myself, and make copious notes in the margins and on the blank backs of the pages. Then it's back to the computer to key in the changes and address whatever problems I can. Often, I am left with a laundry list of things that need further work, scenes that don't quite work or might not even be necessary, research to do, and all sorts of other problems I may or may not be able to fix.

Over the new few weeks, I return to the manuscript often, rereading, hoping for inspiration, enjoying a particularly well-written part, and making more notes. With each reading, I continue to ask myself, "What's it all about?" What I'm looking for is a theme that can unify the story and help me with my ending because I almost always hate my ending.

And that's pretty much where I'm at with UP NORTH. I've got a list of about ten scenes that need something and I'm unsatisfied with parts of my ending. I may try to revise these things now, but more likely, I'm going to hand the thing over to somebody else for a few weeks and get some feedback. Fresh eyes never hurt.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's Official

I did not win. Turns out I did remember to send a SASE to the folks at Delacorte, because today I received notice that I did not win the prize. I guess that's the bad news. To be honest, it's not really bad news unless you expect something different, and I knew when I sent it that the manuscript had some flaws and needed a few more months worth of editing. Deadlines are deadlines, though.

The good news is that I just now received my rejection when I know others received theirs some time ago. I am telling myself this is because my story at least made it through the weeding out round. That I have no idea if there even is a weeding out round means nothing. Writers need approbation and we're perfectly willing to supply ourselves.

The other good news is something that all writers crave while they're busy being rejected: a personal comment. I was sent the same rejection form as everyone else who lost, but one of the editors added a two sentence hand-written note to the bottom. She commented on how she enjoyed my main character's voice, but the piece as a whole wasn't strong enough to win, which I already sort of knew. She also told me to "Keep writing," which I fully intend to do.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Randy Whitforth Daniel Gray (a poem)

I wrote this poem a while back and rediscovered it while going through the files today. It's one that I'm never going to submit because of 1. it's length and 2. the fact that it's pretty much a total rip off of Shel Silverstein's "Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout."

Randy Whitforth Daniel Gray

Randy Whitforth Daniel Gray
Did not brush his teeth today.
He did not brush the day before,
He said, "I won't brush anymore!"
His mother pleaded, his father raged
And after dinner, a war was waged.
But Randy kept his mouth shut tight,
His toothbrush stayed well out of sight.

In the morning, when he awoke,
His father said, "This is a joke!
Your mouth is gross, you're coming with me!
If you won't brush them, we'll see Dr. Lee."

The dentist said, "Now open wide."
He leaned in close to look inside.
The teeth were yellow and coated in gunk,
There was leftover food and the breath really stunk.
There were pieces of fish and small bits of egg,
And the crusty remains of an old chicken leg.
Some green stuff was growing on parts of the gums,
And when Randy sneezed, out flew some crumbs.

The dentist chiseled and scraped and drilled.
He found six holes that had to be filled.
After three hours, Dr. Lee was done.
He'd cleaned every tooth, one by one.
Randy leaped from the chair in a rush.
Where was he going? Straight home to brush.


Got going again on my writing "hobby" a little this week and worked on some poems to submit. I like to write poems, but I have to be in a certain frame of mind to write anything decent. I often just stare at the blank screen. I've tried picking topics out of thin air and forcing myself to write a poem about them, but that never works. Something's either there or it isn't.

For this batch of submissions, I wrote three new ones and picked out five older ones that haven't yet made all the rounds. (Or maybe they have, I'm not sure. When the old computer died I lost my submission tracking file, so I hope these aren't resends. Although even if they are, the worst they can do is reject them again, right?) The new ones include a poem about a wagon ride, one about a Spanish duck with a sense of humor, and another about a kid who decides to stay in bed because of his allergies.

I'd like to think I have some idea of which things I've written are publish-worthy and which are not, but it's not much of a science. I usually have a pretty good idea when I've written a stinker and I can't say I'm surprised at any of the three that have been accepted, but I still think I've got about five poems that could be accepted if the timing and the publisher were right. One of the good things I've learned about publishing is that it's a lot like the weather in Michigan--if you don't like it, just wait a while, because change is coming. So even if the poems can't land a home right now, in a few years all the editors will have moved on to different jobs and I can send them all again!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Revising, Yet Again

I have, for the time being, tabled my middle-grade manuscript, FARVE CASTLE LETS IT GO to once again revise my young-adult story, UP NORTH: THE VACATION JOURNAL OF FINLEY S. JACOBSON. My original plan to was get FARVE in tip-top shape and begin the process of shopping it to agents. However, I was able to gain some distance from the work after not looking at it for a period of about three months and I've noticed some things that are going to need more than just a simple band-aid. So it looks like it's going to be a longer revision than originally planned.

The other issue is that Delacorte, the same folks I sent FARVE to, also runs a contest for young-adult stories and I would like to enter UP NORTH in it. The deadline to enter is December 31, so time is limited. I've revised it a couple of times already, but they were mostly surface revisions--a sentence here and there, tweaking the dialogue, adding some description--you know, all the anal, doesn't quite sound right when I reread it stuff. It has larger problems that I hope I can rectify in a month.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"They found me, Marty. I don't know how, but they found me."

Except they called me Patti and there's a typo in the poem itself. The Free Library, an online depository of all things printed in the magazine world (okay, not all, but close enough for guv'ment work.) has printed my poem "Snowman With Wings." I'm not exactly sure how this site manages getting around copyrights, (well, all right, they probably have permission from the publishers, but it's a lot more fun to think they're doing something illegal) but I'm certainly not alone in the violated department. In fact, I should probably be ashamed to admit that I've used the site to research the kinds of things certain magazines like to publish. You can find pretty much everything Highlights has printed in the last few years. Anyway, if you'd like to read my poem, it can be found here:

Snowman With Wings

Just look for Patti Murphy

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


1. Some Things Never Change

Grown-ups, as smart as they think they are, are actually pretty stupid. And somebody must have decided that the stupidest of the grown-ups should work in schools, because here at Jefferson Elementary we’ve got some real doozies, like Mr. Clark, my fifth grade teacher. You want proof? Well, way back on the first day of school, before I’d even done anything yet, Mr. Clark lined everybody up in alphabetical order. Everybody except me. When he got to me he said, “Farve, why don’t you just head to the back. There’s no point in delaying the inevitable.”

I didn’t have the foggiest what that meant, but I went. And now, with just three weeks of school left, that’s still right where I’m standing, staring at the back of Randy Washington’s head, sweat running down my butt crack, thinking about how stupid Mr. Clark and all the rest of the grown-ups are.

Because what Mr. Clark doesn’t realize is that there’s nothing wrong with the back of the line. He’s way up there at the front, and with twenty-three kids between us, there’s no way he can see what I’m up to. You’d think teachers would figure this out, but Mr. Clark is the sixth teacher I’ve had that’s put me at the back. Now if that doesn’t prove how stupid grown-ups are, nothing will.

Today we’re off to the computer lab, and as we slog past our red lockers, Mrs. Kile’s head comes bobbing down the hall toward us. Mrs. Kile was my second grade teacher, so I know that by this time of year she’ll have a kid like me at the back of her line. I lean out to get a look at him. He’s this little runt of a sawed-off thing who doesn’t seem to care that he’s lagging behind his class by about ten feet. Sand-colored bangs hang in his face and his dirty tennis shoes are untied. It’s amazing he can walk without tripping.

Seeing those shoes gives me an idea, and as the class shuffles past I do some quick surveillance to make sure the coast is clear. Then, when that little midget comes scuffling alongside me, eyes glued to the hallway floor, I stick out my left foot and catch him flush on his ankle. He never sees it coming. Goes sprawling to the floor with a surprised little yelp. I prepare my “who me?” face and wait for him to cry out or yell, but he doesn’t say a thing, just sits there rocking with his hands wrapped around the top of his untied Nikes.

As we file into the computer lab the cold air from the A/C hits me, and I hear Mrs. Kile from down the hall. “Donnie!” she snarls. “Get up! How many times have I told you to tie those shoes? Maybe now you’ll listen!”

I smile. Some things never change.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the Hunt

So since I was a bonehead and misinterpreted the guidelines for the Delacorte Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel and failed to include an SASE, I have been spending entirely too much time checking their site to see if they've announced a winner yet. They haven't.

I think I'm safe in assuming I did not win.

Therefore, I have been preparing to query agents. Last week, I reread the manuscript (again) and tweaked a few things here and there. Since it was in pretty decent shape for the contest, most of it was just wordsmithing (a term which really annoys me, but for which I've yet to find a suitable substitute). I've never liked the ending and so I just deleted it today. It's easier to revise something when you have no choice.

I've also started working more on the business end of this whole, well, business. This past week I've been playing with a query letter and I threw my rather haphazardly constructed first attempt up on Verla's Blue Board where it was promptly and deservedly torn to ribbons. The criticism was extremely helpful and although I'm not quite done tinkering, I think I've now got something that agents won't pass around the office and snicker (or worse) at.

Now starts the process of researching agents. Today I started with the following gents: Josh Getzler, Daniel Lazar, Stephen Barbara, and Steven Malk. Thanks largely to blog interviews, there's an unbelievable amount of information out there. Like everything else in writing, this is going to take a while.