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The last panel of Killer Nashville wrapped up with The SARTEC K-9 Unit. Amazing experience to hear these people speak and meet their partners (who are also their personal pets).
Some highlights from the panel:
- Their dogs are trained to find people–alive or dead and will ignore deers and snakes
- The search coordinator works with the dogs and their handlers and oversees the group
- Dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Human beings stink to them.
- It is hard to scent block, you would need to overload the senses of the dog.
- If you bathe, you may kill the scent on you, but a dog can still find you pretty fast.
- The process for a K-9 unit being brought in: 1) The police or fire department must call the unit in after they have been on the scene. 2) The coordinator puts out calls and emails to see which volunteers can help. Based on the specific problem (cadaver search vs. living person or water vs. air scent), the dogs will be assigned to the scene. 3) The coordinator will liase with the PD/ fire dept/rescue squad and fills the unit in on what they need to do. 4) If the search is long going, the owner will rehab the dog.
- There is no one breed that is best for this, but long noses generally have the best sense of smell. Pugs however can’t smell as well because of their short nose.
- Bloodhounds are great at tracking and trailing where someone has been. (Have 10,000x better sense of smell than shepherd)
- Shepherds are good at figuring out where the person is now. (Have 10,000 x better sense of smell than human)
- The longest a dog can stay in the field is 12 hours.
- Dogs sweat via the pads on their feet and their tongue–handlers must beware of hot pavement.
- When it’s hot, scent gets light and rises, when it’s cold out the scent stays toward the ground
- A cadaver trained dog will dig up a grave–any grave–once found a Civil War grave at a State Park.
- Searches are sometimes scent specific, meaning that the dog is given the odor via a piece of clothing. But if the item was worn by another it can confuse the dog because the item may have multiple scents.
- Best thing to give a searcher is a pillow case–very specific to that person
- All handlers and dogs need to rehab. They go back to base where they interview with the incident man sit & eat, drink water, and are watched for dehydration. Only then can they go on the next call. Rehab generally lasts 2-4 hours.
- Cigarette smoke can kill a dog’s sense of smell for an hour.
- If a child is relocated into a car and taken away, cars are not airtight so the scent will come out of the car as it is driven away.
They also gave us a demonstration of what a dog does during a search by having a person hide in the room and bringing the dog in to find her. It took the dog less than a minute and she sat and barked beside the hiding person. Very cool.
These people really knew their stuff and were very generous to share their time and expertise with us. What a wonderful way to end the conference!
Here’s my second to last installment from Killer Nashville and in my mind the most important. Why? Because I stunk at writing query letters until this conference. And C.J. Redwine’s workshop was a big part of turning that around.
Ms. Redwine is an electrifying public speaker, who immediately captures the audience’s attention and keeps them engaged, making an hour fly by.
She opened with an honest explanation of how she got into teaching this workshop–her first two years of querying sucked. She struggled with putting 90K words into 1 page–it all sounded state and boring. Draft after draft of her query was sent out and rejected.
Unfortunately revising only made it worse. She didn’t know what to do. (Sounds terribly familiar doesn’t it?)
She submitted her query to the Janet Reid Query Shark blog and it got ripped apart for being stale/boring and synopsis like. Ms. Redwine threw out everything and read the back of a book cover. She made her query sound that way. She resubmitted to Query Shark and 4 hours later Janet Reid requested the manuscript. This was the turning point for her and soon after she queried more agents and got her agent.
After everything she went through, she understands how frustrating the query writing process is and how hard that elusive breakthrough can be. She has a comprehensive online workshop run once a month which teaches what a query letter is, the dos and don’ts and how to write an effective query letter.
Golden Rule: Books sell on concept and hook, not on deluge of information.The query has to make the agent worry and wonder just like the back of a book cover.She is a master at helping you sift through all the extraneous information to get to the heart of your concept.
A query is not about showcasing your writing ability. Being a great manuscript writer, does not mean you can write a killer query. They are two different writing skillsets.
- Addressing agent correctly
- When emailing queries always sent to one agent at a time–Never cc
- Only send what agent wants to see based on their guidelines (shows you can follow directions and meet expectations)
- Write a hook that makes you want to read book
- Include 1 paragraph of stats (writing creds if any, memberships in national writing organizations)
- Use the proper business format
- With e-queries send it to yourself to make sure formatting is okay after pasting into email from Word doc.
- You want the query to stand out–but not because you use scented paper or include a gift. Focus on your hook
- Remain professional at all times. Thank agent or stay silent when get a rejection email. Keep in mind you will be googled so check that your web presence is professional
- Generally 8-10 queries at a time in manageable. Keep track of it all in a spreadsheet. Don’t re-query same agent
- Query 1 book at a time
- Never ever reference rejection letters in query
- Don’t pitch an incomplete manuscript
- Do not say you are the next J.K. Rowling or better than what on the market now
- Don’t say your book is life changing/important
- Don’t dare the agent to take you on
- Avoid rhetorical questions
- Avoid cliches
In terms of a web presence, a blog is free to have, but you must maintain it. Having a presence on Facebook and/or Twitter is useful. A website is great, if you can afford it, but content has to be updated.
The query is composed of 3 parts:
- Salutation–Get agent gender correct.
- Hook–concept of book–NOT A SYNOPSIS. Introduce main character, give glimpse of their personality, introduce antagonist, and tell what the stakes are and key conflict is.
- Stats–Title. genre, word count (approximate) in one sentence. List any publishing credentials. Membership in national writer’s associations. Reason why query agent.
During the second hour of her panel she went on the critique several audience query letters. It was a great experience to hear what was and wasn’t working. I think everyone in the room benefited from it. I know I certainly did.
I hope this summary helped, though it is a poor substitute for the actual workshop. It’s one thing to read about it, another to be there participating and her on-line workshop is far more in depth than the condensed version at the conference.
So after a long delay, here’s another post about a panel at Killer Nashville. There were so many great panels, it was hard to choose which to attend and then which to blog about. Anyway, since genre was my biggest stumbling block and I now know I write YA mysteries, I thought I’d give some highlights from this panel. The panel included Marlis Day, Bonnie Doerr, Earl Fisher, Linda Fisher, and Jessica Verday. The discussion leader was Joseph Terrell.
Question: What are the key elements of YA novels?
- The main character of must be a young adult (age 10-18)
- The parents are usually not around in the book
- Focus on teen objectives such as: boys, school, what to wear, etc. (They don’t worry about paying the rent)
- Protagonist usually gets no help from adults
- Protagonist may struggle to define where they fit in and their own morals
- Protagonist has to solve things
Q: What is the subject matter that can be covered in YA?
- Less and less is off limits, but stay sensitive to your readers age group (tween vs. late teen)
- Depends on publisher
- Keep in mind that edgy books can be banned by school libraries
Q: How do you develop a character?
- Mystery is all plot. It has to move fast to grab the YA audience too
- Explore background and motivation in subplots
- Characterization can also flow from plot
- Use of senses is important in how the characters define themselves (For example, a perfumer sees a flower and thinks what can I make from it. A painter thinks can I capture it in a painting.)
- Setting is important because characters are products of where they are from
- Sometimes characters can make their own plot
- You have to like characters or love to hate the characters. They must inspire emotions that keep you turning the page.
Other highlights include:
- The importance of cliffhangers in chapters
- Kids read to explore the things they cannot do. So show them that world–the good and the bad.
Day two of the conference has some great panels, but my favorite had to be Jeffery Deaver’s presentation on how he writes thrillers. What I thought was really great was how much he stressed that this is only his method of writing a thriller. Others have their ways and the writing process is very subjective. His process is as follows:
1) Always remember that writing commercial fiction is a business. P&G employees do not wake up and say that they aren’t inspired so create a product. You are under contract and legally obligated to create a book , so meet your deadlines.
2) Have a business plan–what kind of book are you creating? You have to create a product that people want to read otherwise it won’t have buyers.
3) Need an idea of what the product will look like. People read books to get to the end. Deaver likes to write novels over a short timeframe–2-3 days with a recurring series of deadlines making the reader ask what next.
4) Start fleshing out the idea–e.g., since there are 206 bones in the human body, write a book with 206 chapters each after the name of the bone. Keep chapters very short. 206 murders will occur in a hospital and a bone will be hidden in the room where the murder occurred. Note: Don’t write the book yet. If you don’t have an idea of how it ends and how everything fits together, it’s not a good idea to start writing. Deaver outlines his books, making a diagram for the novel. While outlining, he also conducts in depth research and choreographs the ending. As he works on the outline, the book keeps evolving. But as he gets further along realizes there is no surprise ending. Uh-oh. He realizes he’s working on a book that shouldn’t be written. The outline showed him that it was a bad story.
So he scraps it and starts over. Luckily he’s got enough time to come up with a new product, draft a new outline, and write the book.
When he finishes the book, he rewrites a lot (40-50 times) before other people can the draft. Then he will turn it over to focus group for feedback. Then he has freelancers edit it—using 2-3 copy editors to go through for continuity, phrasing mistakes, etc. Then it will be handed into his editor. Then he’ll do a book tour. Then the process starts all over again.
I’m heading off on vacation for 2 weeks. I’ll try to blog more about the conference when I get back in September because day 3 had some truly awesome panels. In the meantime, I’ll post pics from my adventures.
There were forty plus panels during the three-day Killer Nashville conference, so I figure I will blog highlights from the ones I attended. I can’t talk about every panel or even everyone I attended or else the conference blogs would go on for weeks. But I can share some of the new things I learned about or heard.
There was a Romance/Mystery/Suspense panel that talked about striking the balance between romance and the mystery/suspense novel. The panel included: Annie Solomon, Bente Gallagher,Laura Elvebak, Karen Gallahue and Karen McCollough. Bente writes a series about a real estate agent who decides not to do the right thing anymore and falls for a guy her mom would hate. Under the name of Jennie Bentley, she also writes a traditional mystery involving do it yourself renovation.
The first question posed to the panel was how to balance love and murder in books.
- Bente writes case based mysteries in which the relationship carries over
- In a series, you can take 4-5 books to build up the romance and make it an arc, but the mystery should be be concluded in each book
- For KG, she focuses on the mystery but keeps romance as a subplot.
- You can have a married couple separate and bring them back together as a romantic subplot
- With Romance genre, there is an expectation of 1-3 love scenes–however the explicitness can vary from vary to fade to black
- Cozy mysteries are very sweet and suitable for 13 and 85 year olds. They contain no sex/violence/bad language
- With a hardboiled mystery you can have language and sexual tension
- Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is real life with the dull parts left out
- Some writers preferred first person and other third person POV.
- For the romance subplot, you have to find a mate with the right skills–someone who feeds into the protagonists issues.
- Generally, in a book 1 character will push the action more than another
- Although love story may be minor, it can be critical to the plot–build the story so they’re woven together and love story can’t be taken out
- Flashbacks are hard to do well and slow down the action
- Readers want a relationship. Mystery editor will not care or not care enough about romance element. Romance editors care about romance element.
- Where you will place the book in the bookstore is vitally important, so understand what your primary genre is.
The TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) panel discussed who they are and what the do. It was a fascinating look inside the life of a TBI team.
- He talked about how a crime scene is investigated
- The case investigator processes the scene
- Processed by FT crime scene tech (usually in big cities)
- Processed by forensics team
- He walked us through an example of a possible terrorist attack which meant the response came from city, county, state, and federal levels. Everything on site had to be evaluated and documented. The press swarmed around the scene.
- TBI has a violent crime response team that consists of the following specialists: firearms& toolmark, serology/DNA specialist, latent print, microanalysis, and measure and lithogram
- TBI is usually not the first on the scene, but when TBI is called, they tell the on site people to maintain the perimeter and seal it off. The first responder’s main goal is to save lives so there are times evidence can be destroyed during that process, though most first responders are aware of the need to maintain the scene
- When TBI responds to a crime scene they locate, document, and collect physical evidence
- TBI has a few vans that are tricked out with all the essentials for crime scene investigation such as: Tele lights that are fixed and others that are portable, water tank, freezer, bathroom, awnings, packaging materials, laptop/printer/copier/scanner/TV, dedicated evidence storage, and generator
- The criteria for TBI to be called in include:
- Homicide or officer involved whodunnit
- unique, requiring tech expert/equipment
- scene secured/protected
- processing not already started
- not a fire scene
- They have to know everything the first responders did–where they walked, what they touched or moved or removed or added. Every alteration must be taken into account byt he investigator
- TBI tries to determine a probable sequence of events. They take notes, video and photos to document everything. They notice every small detail like whether a light was on or off and if it was off was it non functional
- Sketches are made of the crime scene
- Generally, only the team leader will testify on the crime scene
- In general, high velocity causes smaller blood droplets in blood splatter
- A rule of thumb in estimating distance is that 1 inch spot on a shirt equals 1 yard distance away
And a huge thank you to the TBI who created a crime scene in the stairwell for us to visit. (See the pic up top) Killer Nashville gave away free entrance to next year’s conference to whoever got the most info correct in assessing the crime scene. Me, I write paranormal mysteries so I was totally out of my element. But it was cool to see. And after hearing the TBI panel, I understood a lot more about what I saw in the stairwell.
While I met with Bente Gallagher for my manuscript critique, OL took notes on the Sherrilyn Kenyon panel. BTW, Bente is everything you’d expect from her website and more. Smart, honest, great wit, and total awesomeness. She pointed out a few things in the first chapter that needed to be fixed. It was amazing to have another set of eyes catch the inconsistencies. She provided a written critique and made track changes comments in the actual chapter. Completely worth the extra money to have the manuscript critique. Again, the one-on-one face time is priceless. Not only do you get a critique but you can talk through things and ask questions. I also picked up her books and they are next on my to read list.
- She sold 24 million copies of books in 40+ countries
- First started out, there was no recipe–each time is different–every time is like first time
- Everything she did may not work for others or for her again. At that time, it worked
- Sold first piece at 14–mostly wrote magazine articles and short stories. Took her several years to get first book published
- In 1995, market changed and her career as vampire writer came to an end. Once top-selling authors stop selling, agents and editors nervous and marketplace looking for something new
- At one point she was homeless with a child, but she didn’t give up. She went back and worked her way back up to the top again
- Publishing industry very hard. Decisions not made by authors and publishers, but by MBAs–number crunchers–so bottom line is how am I going to shelve it and market it?
- Her husband was very supportive in her coming back to market. She wrote another book–everyone of her beta readers loved it but publishers refused to publish it
- Went through tremendous struggles–dad died of cancer, mom had cancer, and son severely sick. She promised her husband she would give up writing
- Finally found agent again. Everything went slowly and she started writing historical romances, which sold
- She tried to go back to paranormal mystery and time was right–people liked it again–it felt new again
- Built website–early adapter and did website by herself and used it as marketing tool. She used character profiles online and message boards–very interactive and innovative at that time
- She was very interested in learning about web and PCs
- Promotion ideas–be true to self, know your weaknesses. Be careful about putting unique plot ideas on your website before a book is published/sold to a publisher. If hate Facebook, don’t use it. People will realize you hate it. If you are not a people person, don’t tour for your books
- To market book, figure out what makes you buy stuff? Cool cover, great back cover, good review
- Always be nice to people. If ask for autograph give it to them. Always be on best behavior–these are your readers who buy your books. If they tell you a story, try to remember it so you can talk about it in future
- People will read your books if they know you or have a personal connection with you
- At bookstores, get to know the staff, ask if you can leave bookmarks
- Libraries buy your books so support them with readings there
- Having a website is important–especially if you make it an extension of you
- For first time authors, to get noticed participate in online readers sites–be a fan first
- On Twitter or Facebook, don’t be in your face about your book–talk about other stuff most of the time
- Every writer has their own road to an agent, but keep in mind an agent is a tool and you need to find the right one that works for you
- Get to know agents before pick one–this is a marriage of sorts
- Think long-term with your career
- Make sure foreign rights are negotiated well–don’t leave them with the publisher
- Try to keep every right that you can–if she hadn’t she wouldn’t be able to put out graphic novels
- The book cover has to tell you what the book is about
- Some people aren’t good at pitches, try your best and then use that time to get to know agent/editor
- She works on more than one series at a time and produces up to 7 books a year as a solo writer
- Some books take 4-5 months and others take 3-4 weeks
- For her a book isn’t working if it is not entertaining to her
- She uses beta readers and critique groups
- Her website is database driven so it is dynamic and site updates itself when new book is coming out
I flew down to Nashville, TN with OL on Thursday morning. We flew on American Eagle. Won’t make that mistake again. We had an overweight situation where 8 people were required to relinquish their seats and take a later flight. Then we finally board and two more people are required to get off the plane due to the overweight situation. It was ridiculous. Luckily, we were allowed to remain on the flight. Unlike Continental, no food was served on the flight. These tickets cost $300 each and my one checked bag cost another 25$. Highway robbery in my opinion. The one bright spot was the Nashville airport–so clean and calm, especially after LGA in New York.
We did a little sightseeing in the afternoon hitting the Cocoa Tree for truffles (which we snacked on everyday as a treat) and driving by the Opry on the highway since it was closed for restoration. We headed out to Franklin, TN to check in to the hotel where the Killer Nashville Conference was being held. A lovely Marriott with super friendly staff. We hung out at the hotel, enjoying the saline pool and spa. Gearing up for the first day of the conference.
On day one, I got a query critique with Cari Foulk who was super helpful and a great person to talk to. She liked my story and my writing–which was awesome to hear. She even requested the full manuscript. I’m still giddy over that. She explained what wasn’t working in my query letter and provided insight into what was missing and how it needed to be articulated. I highly recommend paying for extras at conferences like the query critique. It’s a great opportunity to get one-on-one feedback.
While I spoke to Cari, OL attended the Lee Lofland panel on how CSI gets it wrong. Some highlights included:
- Don’t use TV shows for research. TV shows are created to entertain, not to mirror reality because what cops really do every minute of the day is not not exciting enough.
- Don’t use another writer’s book as research, he may have gotten his info from TV.
- Research things because every governmental and law enforcement agency does things differently and laws vary across city, county, state and federal levels.
- A chief of police is not the same thing a sheriff.
- He mentioned that Jeffrey Deaver is an example of an author who gets it right–he spends months researching his books. However, he does not give the reader information overload.
- As an example, he mentioned that cops always tell suspects not to leave town, but they have no legal authority to say that. A judge must sign a court order for it to have any weight.
- Also, when a medical examiner says, “From the size of the wound, I’d say…”–It’s not true. They cannot tell the caliber from the gun hole.
- In a drowning, the body floats after 3 days dead
- No family member is allowed in autopsy room alone and usually ID dead from photograph
- crime scene detectives cannot track footprints in asphalt in a big city
- Pulling weapons in public is too dangerous to bystanders
- FBI and local police usually don’t work same cases
- Crime scene investigators are not police, even though act like it on TV
- Civilians do not have weapons, don’t attend autopsies, do process crime scene, do investigate evidence, and do testify in court
- Southland is an example of a show with good details such as cop having junk in pockets or raising gun up to shoot.
For more information on police procedures, check out Lee’s amazing blog at http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/
If you want to hear more of highlights from the Killer Nashville conference, I’ll be posting about it all week.
So I signed up for a query and a manuscript critique at Killer Nashville. Both I will receive this morning. I’m a little bit butterflies in the belly.
I also signed up for verbal pitches. Think godzilla in the belly. I’ve practiced. I’ve gone over my work. I know my story. I love my characters.
But I tend to ramble when nervous. And face to face interaction with a stranger=nervous for me.
I am not sure how many agents/editors I will have the opportunity to pitch to, but I hope I do my story justice. I guess it is better to talk than to freeze up. I just have to pretend this is a job interview. I am good at interviewing, or at least I think that’s why I’ve been hired several times over.
I’ve read blog posts on dos and don’ts so I should be prepared. I am prepared. I can do this. Wish me luck!
Have you ever been super nervous before a pitch session? How did you deal with it? What are your biggest stumbling blocks?
I’m heading down to Nashville on Thursday for the Killer Nashville conference. First trip to Nashville. I have Thursday to do a little sight seeing before the the conference begins on Friday. Any recommendations of place to see or do?
So far I’m planning on hitting the Cocoa Tree for chocolate, seeing the Grand Ole Opry (or at least taking pics of the outside), and maybe going to Jack’s Bar-B-Que. We only have half a day before the conference begins and that’s going to be an all day affair for 2.5 days. Maybe Sunday night we might venture back into Nashville.
So as I make sure all the stuff has been sent in for the critiques and print out copies of my query and synopsis, I’m getting that nervous feeling. Because this is the first conference I’m expected to pitch at. And I’m so hit or miss verbally. Somedays I rock and others not so good. I’m going to practice on my friend tomorrow.
Fingers crossed this will go well!