23 Jul 2011

Life changed

Oslo, 22nd of July at 15.26 local time.
I heard a faint rumble on my way to buy a newspaper. I didn't think much about it. It was just bad weather. Nothing new about that.
I went back to the coffee house where I was sitting with Anan, discussing a synopsis we were working on. Everything was normal. We read the paper, drank coffee, two toddlers were running around playing hide and seek among the table, the music was a bit too loud and so was the sound from the huge coffee machine. It was hot and humid. I work so much better with rain than heat, so I was hoping it would start to rain soon.
The phone rang. Anans wife was telling us that something happened at one of the newspapers, VG. She said there had been a huge explosion in VG's building.
I couldn't believe it. My romance publishers buildings is just opposite VG. My children's books publisher a block further down. I have friends and colleagues in the area, I shop there, I walk there often. It's smack in the center of town.
Anan talked to his wife, and I logged on the Net with my phone. At first only confusion, then that the explosion happened either inside or just outside the government buildings.
Our first reaction was to go down there, to see for ourselves. But the newspapers all said to keep out away.
So we went home and turned on the TV.
The pictures and stories just got worse over the night. It was impossible to believe it at first. The usual question kept coming up. How is this possible?
Everyone was speculating. Was it some unknown Jihad-fraction? Was it Mullah Krekar? Was it because of Afghanistan or Libya?
Then the reports from Utøya kept coming in and getting worse by the minute. Who were this people? Who could do something like this to a summercamp filled with young people?
And when they said this was done by a man dressed in a police uniform, a Norwegian … suddenly this wasn't done by fanatics from the other side of the world. We couldn't say it was Them anymore, this was one of Us.
The man lived a few blocks away from where I live. I might have seen him in the shops and never given him a thought.
It's not possible to understand why he did what he did. It's defies any kind of explanation. He might try to justify himself by saying it was a political attack, but attacking children the way that he did has nothing to do with politics.
Today we went downtown to see for ourselves. To make it real in a way. The bomb area was sealed off. There was soldiers in the streets. Soldiers with automatic guns. They all looked painfully young to me. All the shops were closed. People were silent, talking in low voices..
Later, when we waited for the tram home, I noticed people talking to each other. Strangers asking: Where were you? Did you hear the explosion? Isn't it horrible? And he's Norwegian! How could he?
There is nothing we can do to make sense of his actions, we can only try to take care of each other. We can look at the darker aspects of our culture and say no to it. We can turn away from this senseless action, and do our best to not let people like that win.
I have faith that we will manage to do this.
I was not directly affected by this. Nobody I know was killed or wounded, and for that I'm grateful.
My heart goes out to all those who have lost someone. For them life has changed forever.

15 Jul 2011

On the art of query letters ...

“Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write.” Nicolas Sparks.

No pressure, right?
Query letters are letters that introduce you and your writing to a potential publisher or agent. Basically you write a few words about your self and your manuscript, and hope that you sound convincing enough for the publisher or agent to ask for sample chapters and a synopsis, hopefully followed by a request to see the entire manuscript, and then they will sing you praises and commission your book, making you rich and famous … It sounds so easy!
Now for those of us who are not English or American this is an odd exercise. The typical query letter in Norway is written to a potential publisher. Our market is far to small for agents, so you always send your manuscript to a publisher.
Usually it goes something like this:

Hi(insert name of the editor).
We've written a crime novel and we hope you will find it interesting.
Best wishes.
Anan Singh & Natalie Normann.

We never use «Dear sir or maam» simply because these forms fell out of use here some time in the sixties. Oh, and we never used the term Sir anyway.
If the publisher reads the manuscript and likes it, then they call you and you tell them whatever information about yourself they want. Mostly they're not interested. A publisher here will buy one book at the time and reserves the right to reject your next book if they don't like it.
But to write to an British or American agent is an entirely different cup of tea. Jeez. That's hard work!
Anan and I wrote a letter like this a few weeks back and we agonized over the content for ages. How much bio? What would be the one thing that would convince the person at the other end of how much they would regret saying no to us? Should it be formal, or more personal? How personal? How formal?
How the h... do you decide what's the right approach?
This is where we run into cultural differences. Anan is Indian, so formal is expected: formal and wordy. Being Norwegian, I believe that the fewer words, the better. We've got a lot of practice now, so we usually find a middle road. It helps knowing that a queary letter should only be a page long! Here's a hint: if your submission is done by e-mail, the query letter can be slightly longer. It's not like the Agent/Publisher is going to cut out the text from the e-mail and check! At least I hope not …
Any good book on writing will also give advice on how to write a good query letter. Just use your head and don't copy without thinking it through! What works for one person, doesn't necessarily work for someone else ...
This is how not do to it, in case you need to know: Slush Pile Hell

3 Jul 2011

Plums deify - Stephen King's On Writing

I've joined a Stephen King challenge and I'm to write about six of King's novels this year. And since we're already in July, I'm far behind as usual .

Stephen King has written a lot of really good book (and probably some bad ones). I count a few favourites among his books (The Stand and Misery to mention two), but the book that has meant most to me is On Writing. So I'll start with that.
I have several copies of it, Norwegian and English. The English copy is falling apart and I'm going to have to buy a new one soon. (Not something I look forward to, since the battered copy is filled with comments and yellow highlights).
In the first foreword (yes, there is more than one), King says: The easy answer is that someone who has sold as many books of fiction as I have must have something worthwhile to say about writing it ...
And then he does just that.
He starts with a short biography, up to the time he sold Carrie. He writes about the alchohol and cocaine abuse that almost killed him, and about the car accident that almost killed him, and about how he managed to start writing again.
Then he writs about the craft and about the tools a writer need, grammar, the danger of passice description, swifties and so on. There's also a lot of good stuff on how to build a story.
On Writing is very well written, easy to read and perfect for me who sometimes need advice on things when I'm stuck in my own writing. When I'm really stuck, I read the book from cover to cover. It helps me to read about the struggles of other writers – if anything it saves me from wasting time feeling sorry for myself.
Recommended to all writers and King fans!