Agents and Plot Advice

A friend of mine wrote a historical urban fantasy manuscript that has a great voice and wonderful plot. In short, I think it has a strong chance of getting picked up by an literary agent and published. I’m not an expert in these things but I know engaging reading when I encounter it. I have great faith that it will be published someday.

Agent feedback leads to worry

She’s now worrying over it because one literary agent said “it is not what I thought it was going to be so you need to change it this way.” I’m sure my friend’s frustration blossomed because enacting the changes meant an extreme rewrite of the plot. Her thoughts flowed the same way mine would have if I had received that advice. “If I do it, the agent will accept it.” Except that is not guaranteed. Then I hoped that second, possibly wiser voice whispered to her, “but that is not my story.”

My friend tried to make the requested changes and the story ground to a halt in her mind. The characters didn’t want to walk that path. She grew frustrated trying to create the plot the agent wanted. However, it wasn’t the story she wanted. Any writer who has dealt writer’s block in the middle of a manuscript knows that they need to back up and reevaluate. If the plot stops, then you’ve wandered down the wrong mental road.

Carla At Printer's Row

A memory from Printer’s Row Festival 2013. The Festival is taking applications now for the 2019 season.

Now I’m not saying don’t listen to agents. They are the experts. So if they say, “it just didn’t grab my attention” or “the plot slows in the middle”, then you need to think about what they are telling you and probably rewrite parts of the story. Possibly a lot. I’ve edited many of my manuscripts based on agent feedback and feel the story is much stronger for that. I’ve started using developmental editors at the request of an agent who I thought would invest in my property after making all those changes. She didn’t represent the manuscript for other reasons, but it still helped me grow as a writer.

Agent advice with a grain of salt

I’ve also heard stories about how a now famous writer did massive rewrite because an agent or editor commented on the strength of their plot or a unique character. At one conference, an agent told a story about Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The original focus of the book was on the publisher, Mikael Blomkvist, who is an unremarkable person. The remarkable character in the book is the hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who was only a minor character. A literary agent (or maybe editor, I don’t remember which) encouraged Larsson to rewrite the book to prominently tell Salander’s story and give her more importance. Larsson did the rewrite. His book went on to be a hit thriller and was adapted to two motion pictures. Moral of the story: feedback on your material is always good because writers can’t always see the weak spots in our work.

Where I differ from this moral is in when the ideas sound wrong to you. It is your story after all. In the case of my friend, it seemed like the agent had a story in mind already and tried to layer it onto my friend’s plot. But it wasn’t the story my friend had written. So she had a choice: force her characters into a different plot or keep the story and look for a new agent. My choice would be look at the manuscript again to see why the agent felt she was misled. Make possible changes but keep the story intact. In short, I would listen to the advice but also find a new agent.

Know the experts/Know yourself

In conclusion, remember that while advice is always good to a point, you are the master of your story. Imagine what would have happened if someone, say the angel Michael, said to the Lord, “Really? A duck bill on a beaver body? And you’re making it poisonous and electric? Isn’t that kind of weird?” Perhaps Australia would not have such an interesting and yet undeniably odd animal.

At the same time, what if Michael said, “hey, I think butterflies should all be the same size and color. It will them easier for humans to follow.” Then we would have lacked some of the true beauty and glory that exists on spring and summer days. The world would have become a grayer, sadder place.

As the author it is up to you to decide what to change and what to leave alone. Agents and editors are a blessing to serious writers. They often help us be better. But we must always remember that they are only human too. Each one has their visions and their specialties. So sometimes wrong advice simply means you are listening to the wrong person. Agent feedback can help us shape our vision, but not replace it. When you are editing and the story simply doesn’t want to bend that way, then your characters, your muse, and probably your heart are simply telling you that path is the wrong way.

Happy writing.

Recycling Rules and Options

In writing a book about a family living inside an asteroid, I thought about how their daily lives were spent. One factor that became clear early on was that they must recycle and reuse just about everything. In a way this is like living in an Old West frontier town. Food was “canned” in reusable glass jars; old fabric found new uses in quilts, wiping rags, and smaller clothes; and tin cans became flower pots and storage areas. After all, these people knew that new items or replenishing their supplies meant a rare and expensive trip to the distant town. Another reason was that they probably didn’t want the trash to build up behind their homes. Our modern world could learn from such ideas.

I am an ardent recycler but it has become harder and more selective over the years. More than ten years ago, we took our bags of paper, cans, aluminum, newspapers to a central unit in a small town and dumped them in big bins. High school students fulfilled their community hour requirements by working there. The recycling center wanted it sorted and I didn’t care if it was in bags because I emptied the bags into the bin.

Fast forward to now. For the last ten years I’ve set up five separate “trash” cans in order to sort all my recycling and then just put each individual bag in the recycling bin for pickup. I figured the recycling people would be glad not to have to sort it themselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

reycling

The Recycle Porter County Facebook page has been posting do’s and don’ts and I’ve learned just how far off I’ve been. A video that they posted explained a lot about why they have restrictions on what is acceptable and not. Unfortunately, because the information has come in bits and bytes over several weeks, I became more confused than ever until I sorted through and pulled together all the information. So for those of you who want to know more, here is a condensed version of how to recycle in Porter and Lake County, Indiana.

Things to recycle at your curb (from the Indiana Waste Service page):

Paper: This includes just about most things you can think of including telephone directories, corrugated cardboard, office paper, and paperboard. No shredded paper though. Also make sure the boxes and magazines are clean. This means don’t put in that greasy pizza box or paint splattered newspaper.

Plastic: Bottles and containers only with the symbols of 1 through 5 in the recycling triangle are accepted. They must be rinsed out and clean. However, no K-cups, bottle tops or lids because they are all too small. Surprisingly so are pill containers.

Metal: Only aluminum or tin cans and steel. Don’t add the cut off or peeled off lids. This creates a hazard for the workers.

Glass: Brown, green and clear glass bottles are welcomed. The Center wants you to leave the caps on because the caps roll around in the machinery and jam it up. They also want the bottles rinsed out and cleaned. This means no sheet, broken, or window glass.

They suggest that you put everything in paper bags or dump them directly into the enclosed recycling containers. Big machines do all the sorting so no need to keep them grouped together.

Don’t rules for curbside pickup

No batteries, Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags, toys, or any form of electronics. No hangers, light bulbs, or ceramics. No plastic packing material from Amazon or anyone else.

recycling 2

Other Options for Recycling

Plastic grocery bags are easy. Most grocery stores have a drop-off box right inside their doors for old bags. In addition, you can add any clean cellophane wrappers like the plastic around toilet paper or Kleenex boxes. You can even add Saran wrap as long as it is clean. Also consider switching to reusable fabric or paper bags, which are recyclable, so you can stop using plastic bags.

Most lightbulbs can be dropped off at Home Depot, Lowes, and maybe even Menards for recycling, along with those rechargeable batteries that power tools use.

The Valparaiso Compost Site takes fluorescent bulbs and many electronics like TVs, computers, and disc players. They also take smoke detectors, batteries, and printer cartridges. You can drop them off at the same time as when you are getting rid of your branches from all the recent windstorms. Batteries can also be dropped off at all of these locations. Printer cartridges can also be taken to Staples or Home Depot and you can earn a small amount of cash rebates (given monthly) for each one.

Unusual Options for Recycling

Wands for Wildlife will accept old mascara wands to help with cleaning up animals. In truth I never thought about this one. However, more information is available here.

Pill containers can go to  Matthew 25 Ministries but you have to go to mail them in. So save up a bunch and then send a package to the address given at the website.

CDs, DVDs and their cases can all go to the CD Recycling Center of America. Just go to their website and print out a mailing label. Of course if you are into arts and crafts, check out Pinterest for a number of artsy ways to reuse these plastic discs.

Locally, Opportunity Enterprises welcomes donations of a number of objects including buttons, keys, beads, old CDs and DVDs, magazines, phonograph records, and more. Check them out at this page.

I hope this list helps you recycle better. So often people want to do the right thing and help the Earth. We should start thinking about our home as an isolated place with limited resources even though we are billions of people instead of a few. The billions will cause more damage if we as caretakers of the Earth don’t change our mindset. We can’t continue trashing it up. Like the frontier people, in space or otherwise, we need to recycle and reuse what we have and be smarter about how much we throw away.