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Okay here’s another major character from Divas.  Enjoy.

Sonora Livingston-Bundt was born Wanda Bundt in Queens, New York City – her mother a seamstress, her father a fitter in a shipyard.  (She was never quite certain what a fitter was, however.)  She had an attractive, willowy frame and was seen as a ‘natural’ for ballet.  She was encouraged by her music teacher at school to enroll in a local dance academy that had an excellent reputation for turning out highly qualified dancers, who frequently turned professional.

Wanda thrived.  She was bright and enquiring at school, and she absolutely dazzled at the dance academy.  By the time she was in her late teens she had changed her name to Sonora, because “Wanda” just wouldn’t do as a stage name.  She had every intention of making it big in the dance world.  She had her heart set on making her professional debut with the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet – and she did.

She rose with startling ease within the company, and was dancing minor roles within a year.  However, she had tastes and ambitions that were not being met on her lean, dancer’s salary.  She embarked on a sightseeing tour of the eligible New York City and adjacent area bachelors.  She knew better than to have any casual boy friends who might distract her, and she set her sights on the crème de la crème of society’s brightest.

She had her very own, up-to-date edition, of Who’s Who, and did her research with great earnestness.  She quickly weeded out the sickly, inept, poor and stupid, and had honed in on her ideal choice – Brandon Livingston, of the Westport Livingston’s.  Yale undergraduate, Harvard Law, and a comfortable berth in Daddy’s media empire in the city.  However, Brandon had a good sense of the zeitgeist, and was soon heading up a new branch in Daddy’s company, developing computer software.  Yes, he was just what she was looking for.

They were married, and she became Mrs. Sonora Livingston-Bundt.  And although she no longer danced, she kept the world of dance firmly in her sight.  She was determined to be a patroness of the arts – and of dance in particular.  She arranged lavish gala celebrations and fund raisers, and was soon the Queen of the New York arts society.

The years passed pleasantly enough. Brandon was wildly successful with the software division, but was hardly ever at home or available.  She was forty before she knew it – but still dancer trim.  It had been decidedly inconvenient for her to have children, so that family function had been passed along to Brandon’s siblings.  The in-laws seemed content with that.  She was still glamorous and involved, but was growing increasingly restless.  She wanted to travel.

Brandon could never get away, so off she went on her own – Europe, Asia, the Peruvian jungles; treks across Mongolia; archeology in the Southwest…  And that is how she discovered the glories of Santa Fe – fell in love with its magical charms, and bought a house at Chamisa Springs.

This was easily accomplished because, just the previous month, Brandon had run into a tree and died while skiing in Aspen with his boyfriend.  Of course, she inherited everything.

The grieving widow had managed to re-conceive the circumstances of Brandon’s death for his family and friends; and in her great sorrow, sold the penthouse in New York, and moved out west to her new Santa Fe home to grieve and heal.  At least that was the story.

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As I near the end of a writing project – in this case a novel – I begin the process of writing the query letter I will send out to agents.  I spend a lot of time on this as it is very important to put forward your work as succinctly and dramatically as possible to snag the interest of an agent who must get 200 queries a day.

I worked a long time to get my latest letter together.  This novel was the most involved work I have done – a lot of characters that had to be juggled and developed over the scope of the work.  I wanted to present the story as fully as I could, and I ended up with a query letter that had to be reduced in font size to get all the elements on one page.

I gave it to a friend to read to make sure it was comprehensible.  She came back with the question – What are you trying to accomplish with this?  I explained I wanted to get the story across as completely as I could.  But her question nagged at me, and I went back to look again at the letter.  It was clear that I was trying to convey way too much information.  Instead of engaging the reader I was overwhelming the reader.   I was trying to get the whole novel into a couple of paragraphs.  And I had doubts that a busy agent would read all that.

So I decided to go back and rework the letter.   I went again to Agentquery.com and reread their advice on creating a successful query letter.  That was a good move on my part, because I realized I had written way too much.  I needed to connect with the reader with no more than 250 to 300 words.  My goal had to be to excite the reader to want to see more.  There was no way I could convey the whole novel in just a few paragraphs.  Much better to entice them to want to see more.

So I went back and completely reworked the middle of the letter and got the heart of the letter into 286 words.  The first part of the letter is the opening with title, a one sentence tag line about the book, and the number of words in the work.  And the last section is a very brief biography.  That’s all.  I cut out every single word that did not add directly to my goal of getting the agent to request to see more of the work.

It was really very constructive for me to realize I was trying to do too much with my first query letter, and it led me to go back and rework my other query letters as well.

I highly recommend anyone working on a query letter take a look at the Agent Query website.  Under the heading for writers there is a link to How to Write a Query.  Take a look at what they have to say, and be sure and check out the sample query letters of successful queries.  It will serve you well.

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When I wrote screenplays a few centuries ago, I would spend a lot of time developing character and story before I even wrote the first “Fade In.”  The form of the screenplay breaks down into three acts, and has very specific lengths for each act.  In order to successfully design your plot one has to have fully developed characters.  A lot of thought went into character development, because the main character had to drive the story to its very precise conclusion.  And there had to be a protagonist and an antagonist – very structured.

However, when I started writing narrative fiction I found that my very precise character development ahead of time just did not work in that form.  And I have become endlessly fascinated by how a character can take over its own creation and development.

When I was writing Divas Never Flinch, my first novel, I had not written narrative fiction before.  I did have my main characters in mind and a list of supporting characters sketched out, but none with any full development nor any idea how they might play out in the story.

It was fascinating to see how each character took on their own life and demanded their own trajectory.  In fact I was nearly halfway through the book before a third major character suddenly presented herself and demanded to be a part of the story.

I quickly learned not direct the character myself, but to let the characters reveal themselves to me in their own good time.

Let me end with an example of a novel I am working on now.  I have a major character who is very strong, opinionated and demanding – a US President in fact.  I was writing a scene where he had just learned some devastating news and had not been able to react to it fully.  The event demanded strong action from him.  However, he had to bottle it up and go to a formal banquet first.

I was having some difficulty seeing the direction that the scene at the banquet would take, and struggled to find the next moment for the scene.  When that happens, I try not to push an external idea about how the scene should go, but try to let the character direct me.  Much to my surprise, and without any forethought on my part, the character suddenly collapsed just before he was to give a toast.  It was the perfect end to the scene, and a complete surprise from the character.  I had never dreamt that the scene and character would go in that direction.

I guess this is why I love writing.  You get to meet the most interesting people.

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Gotta admit it.  I’m a first class goon.  As an author my publisher pleads with me to get out there and work the social media.  She advises me to go to the Yahoo groups and get in there and work them with sizzle and shine.  She wants me to blog – which I am doing right now,  don’t ya see – she wants me on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.  But I am totally helpless and clueless.  I have shunned these exercises like they were infected with a twelfth century plague.  We seem to be undated with a constant wash of personal agendas all screaming IN CAPITAL LETTERS demanding our dwindling attentions.  I really don’t care about what you had for lunch or if you brushed your teeth or not.  And I am for damn sure no one cares what I do about these activities.  Am I crazy?  Am I alone thinking like this?  But…but…but I’m a reclusive writer.  All I want to do is work on my latest book or story.  How am I expected to do that if I have to be doing all this other stuff as well?

Sigh.  I should have been born a whole lot earlier, or at least started writing earlier.  I know, it’s an age thing.  If I were twenty I would be all over it, but I’m 70 for chriz sake.  Leave me alone in my stupor and backwardness.  I can’t be out there pushing myself like a used car salesman.  Give me a personal break.

So, I shall make this blog mercifully short and hopefully sweet.  I have had my little say.  So if  I disappear into the cyber void so be it.  For those of you who are adept at these activities I wish you well, and forgive this goon who continues to stumble along in the darkness.  But hey, I did learn to write on a computer.  That’s gotta count for something.  Right?

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It seems to be the general industry practice that a traditional publisher will not consider an unpublished manuscript unless it is solicited by the publisher, or is presented by an author’s agent.  It would be a waste of time to try to query publishers directly if you are looking to get your book published.

The exceptions are the self-publishing houses that solicit manuscripts from authors who then pay the full cost to get their manuscripts published.  This is not recommended unless you are looking to publish just a few copies of your book – for instance, for a family history where there will only be a few copies needed, and no sales or promotion required.

However, the new trend in publishing is what is called subsidiary publishing.  In this arrangement you submit your manuscript to the publisher and they evaluate it just like a traditional publishing house.  If they believe the manuscript warrants publication they will offer the author a contract for publication.  With a traditional publisher the author might be offered between 8 and 10 % of the royalty.  However with subsidiary publishing the author can receive up to 50% of the royalties.  A big advantage.  However, the author will be requested to put up a certain percentage of the publishing costs as well – about 17 to 18% of the total publishing costs.  A number of major publishing houses are now offering this type of contract as well as smaller houses.

My first novel, Divas Never Flinch, was published in a subsidiary publishing agreement with Brighton Publishing.  Their website is www.brightonpublishing.com.  There is a lot of good information on their site about the various forms of publishing and it is certainly worth a look if this is a route to publishing you might wish to consider.  They also tell you how you may submit manuscripts to them.  My experience with Brighton has been very positive so far, but we are still in the process of rolling out the printed version of the book.  Of course, e-books are the new wave of publishing, and Brighton seems well versed in this process as well.  You will certainly want to consider a publisher experienced in e-book publishing.

I consider my experience with the publishing world to be modest at best, and I am certain there is much more that could be written on this subject.  However, this is my experience and I wanted to share it.

I am certainly open to comments and additions from any of you if you care to contribute.

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Okay, so you have written your first novel, epic, non-fiction masterpiece – now what?  How do you get it out there, shared, published and read?  That’s a very big question and not easy to answer.  Again I am not here to pontificate on how it should be done only how I have gone about it from a very personal point of view.

I figured first I would need to get an agent, right?  We have all read about the powerful agents who know everyone in the publishing world and just need to pick up a phone and arrange the million dollar deal.  Well good luck with that.  In the good old days one sent out one’s query letter by USPS soliciting a resonse from an agent willing to read your manuscript.  Well those days are gone too.  We live in a paperless world when it comes to queries, and most are done through the internet now.  There are two pretty good sites that help you locate an agent in your field.  The first is www.agentquery.com.  You will want to use the full search feature to narrow  your search to find agents who are looking for your kind of materials.  The other site is www.querytracker.net.  You will need to register with that site and again do a selected search to find the agents you want to contact.  This site lets you record your queries and track them as well.  Good feature.

The next important thing to do is write your Query letter.  This is how you introduce yourself and your project.  It has a very specific format.  AgentQuery has some good suggestions on how to do that.  Just click on the link at the top of the page to read their suggestions.  I spent weeks writing and rewriting my query letter, refining and refining it until it was as susinct as possible.  It has served me well as my publisher used it to craft my back cover and press releases.

When that is all ready it is time to send it out.  By now you should have found the agents you want to send your query letter to.  It is mostly done electronically these days.  You can submit your query letter to your prospective agents by email.  Be sure to read each agent’s website as they have different ways they want you to submit to them.  Some want only the query letter, some also want the first five pages, or first chapter, or 50 pages, or whatever.  Be sure you send them want they want.

Then you wait…and wait…and wait.  It is a very good idea to keep track of who you send your letters to and how they respond.  Some will respond quickly.  Some not at all.  Most will not be interested in looking at your manuscript.  Be forewarned most agents say that fiction is not being published much these days.  The big dude publishers seem to be interested mostly in non-fiction, self-help books from already established authorities in their fields.

To be totally honest, I have not been able to find an agent yet.  And with the way the publishing world is going these days not sure I need one except to help find a movie deal.  I will go into why more later when I talk about the new developments in publishing in a later post.

I know I have not exhaused this subject by any means.  If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I will answer if I can.

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I know, I know, this looks like another blog of shameless self-promotion.  And it is – up to a point.  I want to introduce myself and what I am up to and then after I have shamed myself by introducing my new book I promise to provide more meaty content in the future – all about the life of a writer and how the process works for me – I can’t speak for others, naturally.  For example, how to get published, how unlikely it is to find an agent, how to keep sharp by writing short stories, and how the writing process works for me.  And, of course, I will want to hear from all of you in response to my ravings.

But for now let me please introduce myself.  I am Jon McDonald and I have a humorous novel that has just been published by Brighton Publishing.  (It is coming out first as an e-book with the printed version arriving later.  The process has all changed out there in publishingland.)

The e-book is available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and smashwords.com.  The nice thing about Smashwords is that one can read up to 20% of the book free, but by then you will hopefully be so hooked on the thrill of it all that you will just have to buy it for the absurdly low price of only $5.99.  (No I have never been a used car salesman.)

And just to tease you ever more here is a brief description:

Battles never cease and sparks fly when Sonora and Connye—the two Grand Divas of the Santa Fe Social Scene—strategize to best each other in a no-holds-barred look at adventures in social one-upsmanship.

Who says there are no longer civil wars in America? Santa Fe, New Mexico is the epicenter of epic battles fought between the two Queens of the local social scene. Told through a series of episodic tales, this satirical novel lurches back and forth between stories of the two Divas; tracing the rise and fall in the fortunes of Sonora and Connye, as they try to outdo each other and reign as Queen. But the battles are played out in the most civil of terms. Dinner parties, social events, and outside journeys to Puerto Vallarta, New Orleans, and New York carry the action through southwest style political intrigue; the search for buried treasure; battles to control visiting royalty; a Hollywood movie premiere, and the colorful exploits of an additional cast of sexually complex, supporting characters.

But it’s not all Champagne and acid. There are also many touching moments. Lost children reunited with a missing parent. Unexpected generosity. The care of aging parents. The gratitude of a good friend for help in starting a new business. And a nativity scene mysteriously appearing in Sonora’s back yard on Christmas Day. Finally, the climax comes when a new competitor arrives on the scene: Amanda Beor-Bink, a world-class fashion designer, who actively conspires, using her celebrity and money, to claim the crown of ‘Queen of Santa Fe’ for herself.  Sonora & Connye, constant competitors up until then, unite to try and oust this New York City interloper who dares to challenge their social supremacy.  But will they succeed?

Ok, enough, already.  But I promise more later.

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