Colonel Shifty’s Haiku Made Easy – Query Critique or Poem Giveaway

Okay, so I actually used to do this when I worked in a restaurant. On my close-out envelope, I’d write a few 5- and 7-syllable options and ask a coworker to choose and voila, a ready-made haiku. Indulge me?

1st Lines
sweet peppers pungent
giraffes wear lipstick
television light
traveling rat spa
little mermaid fin

2nd Lines
winter elephant in bloom
LEGO music Clair de Lune
ice cream melts antagonist
Wichita parades at noon
lavender shoe fetishist

3rd Lines
ickle ockle blue
scented miracle
Areola’s smile
superstar panda
jealous macaroon

Post your haiku in the comments! One entry per person, but feel free to create as many as you like. And feel free to switch things up a bit (substitute words or lines of your own or whatever). Winning haiku will be chosen by Colonel Shifty on Thursday, August 29th at 1:36 pm Pacific time. (Colonel Shifty is actually a gopher, so I will help him by drawing a name out of a hat or using some kind of number generator thingie.) The prize…the prize…um. (Can you tell I’m winging this whole thing?) I’ll critique your query letter. If you don’t have a query letter, or don’t want me to critique it, I will write you a poem. A personalized poem! By me! Yay!

7 Things Your Support Network Needs to Hear

It’s me, Colonel Shifty again! (You lucky ducks.) Last week I counseled Support Network Personnel in the things their writers need to hear. This week, the message is for writers. What does your Support Network need from you? Now, I know writers are inherently selfish (at least, one in particular that I know well). However, think of it like this: If your Support Network is drained and resentful, how well can they support you? Nourishing that Support Network is in your best interest, believe me.

So what do they need? I polled* some Support Networks and got the answers for you, right here:

1. Thank you. Put it in the dedication, or put it in the acknowledgments page. Write it in the sky. Write it in a card, an email, or spell it with cookies on a daisy-patterned plate. Or just, you know, say it. Your Support Network needs to know you appreciate them. Please remember, certain methods of showing gratitude will be more effective than others, depending on circumstances of ability on the part of the writer, and tolerance on the part of the Support Network (e.g. Beth, please do not sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” to Homes. You can totally sing it to your mom, though; she’d dig it).

2. Go out! Have fun! I’ve only had twenty-nine different writer-related outings this month. Tonight’s your night! You can leave me with these two short strangers who may or may not be my children. Is it all right if I call them by the names of my main characters? In all seriousness, you writerly types can be downright selfish when it comes to sucking up all the free time for writing. Give your Support Network time to pursue their own passions, even if it might not be your idea of a good time.

3. Let’s talk about you. Some writers I know (cough*Beth*cough) can go on for days talking to their Support Network about their writing. Whether it’s plot issues, or characters, or querying, or agent drama, it can really fill up the conversation, until the Support Network is sitting on the other side of the table (or worse, trapped in a moving vehicle) looking like a blinking piece of haggis. Remember to share the conversation time, writers.

4. What kind of story do you want to read? This is a fun one, and can get you thinking of different genres, or of blending genres. Look out, though, because you might have a snarky Support Network, and you may not appreciate the answer (e.g. “How about a story where your whiny main character drowns on page ten?”). But if all goes well, cool things can happen. If your support network is heavily into magical realism and you write westerns, imagine the possibilities! Naturally, being a gopher, I don’t have a lot of time to read, but if I did, I’d be reading that.

5. Bad day? Help yourself to my emergency chocolate stash. Writers, it may seem like a big deal to give someone the key to your sanity-preserving dark chocolate peanut butter cups, but remember what I said above: Nourishing your Support Network is in your best interest. Who else will run to the store for more chocolate the next time you’re in need?

6. No, the bad guy isn’t based on you. Your mutual love of haggis is purely coincidental. Sometimes your Support Network might wonder, since you’ve stolen every good piece of dialogue they’ve uttered, what else you’re stealing. Their appearance? Their quirk of wiping their face with a napkin every time they take a bite of food? What about their childhood dreams? Are you some kind of psychic vampire, or what? Take the time to reassure your Support Network that this is FICTION and any similarity it bears to any real event or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental (or whatever that legal jargon is that writers use to save their butts).

7. This book is going to Make It Big and then you can quit your soul-sucking job and retire into the life of luxury to which you should be accustomed. As long as your Support Network realizes the minuscule chance of any book “making it big,” no matter how beautifully wrought, this message can give your Support Network hope, and an opportunity to dream with you. As long as these dreams aren’t replacing Real, Actual Writing (TM), use this for the boost in morale it can give you both.

Really, all those other things are great, but no matter what, your Support Network needs a Thank you. (Although rumor among polled* participants has it that massages, favorite foods, and other tokens of appreciation wouldn’t hurt.)

*No participants were actually polled. Sorry, there wasn’t time.

7 Things Your Writer Needs to Hear

Hi! Colonel Shifty here, reporting with another list of tips for the people who care for writers.

Maybe your writer is shy, or passive aggressive, or just so darn busy drafting Book 3 in her series that she can’t manage to tell you what she needs to hear. Granted, some of these things she needs to hear from people in the publishing business (agents, editors, whatevs), but even if they come from you, a person who cares for her, they’ll still make her feel better/keep her from throwing her manuscript into the fireplace. (Throwing her book into the fireplace just might be the best thing for her…but she has to figure that out on her own.)

1. “Your turn will come.” Your writer may have friends who have published a book. Or books. Or maybe your writer has friends with literary agents, and he’s been desperately trying to find an agent to represent his work, and he’s having a really tough time hearing about how each of those friends had multiple agents fighting over him, and he’s happy for them, he really is. But he’s also feeling a little frustrated about his own place in the process. What your writer needs now is some cheerleading in the form of, “You will have your turn, and it will be glorious.” Because he will have his turn! And it will be glorious! (Please do not mention the possibility that his turn could be, oh, fifteen years away. Or more. He doesn’t need to hear that.)

2. “Take your time.” There’s no rush. I mean, obviously, your writer shouldn’t be dominating the Twitter feeds of her six followers, but she can spend some time taking a head-clearing walk or diving into book-related research. Maybe there’s a ticking clock of needing to get a “real” job once her baby starts school. That’s okay. She can still write. And rushing through a book doesn’t help anyone. She should enjoy it – otherwise what’s the point?

3. “Write the book you need to write.” Does your writer want to tell weird stories? Or super sad stories? Or historical fiction or paranormal romance about vampires? Is he drawn to something that might not exactly be marketable? Tell your writer it’s okay. If that’s the book he needs to write, he should write it. If he’s passionate about it, that passion will shine through. And maybe it won’t be publishable, but he’ll never know unless he writes the darn thing.

4. “Define your own success.” Publication isn’t the only way. Tell your writer that. If she’s writing, and she’s happy, that is a GOOD thing. Maybe her success shouldn’t be measured by things she can’t control, like the publishing industry. Maybe it should instead be measured by the progress she CAN control, like finishing a book, or learning more about a certain format (cough*verse*cough), or getting out there and attending a workshop. Some days this one writer I know defines success by whether or not she makes the time to sit her bootie down to write.

5. “Chocolate doesn’t have calories. Nope, none. Not a single calorie. Eat as much as you want.” No explanation necessary.

6. “It’s okay to cry.” Even if your writer is defining his own success and writing the book he needs to write and taking his time…rejection can still sting. A lot. Give him a day or two to get over it. Crying’s okay, as long as he isn’t short-circuiting his laptop keyboard with the tears.

7. “You want to leave me with our two young children for how many days while you attend a conference? Okay!” I’m sure you’re already supportive in this regard, in which case you may pat yourself on the back and help yourself to one of your writer’s chocolates from her not-so-secret stash. Your writer is taking big risks putting words on the page. An even bigger risk might be attending a writing conference and putting herself out there, learning new things, and totally leaving her comfort zone. Huzzah and hooray to the support network personnel (aka YOU) who are willing to step out of your comfort zone and let her have at it!

And finally, you may kindly point your writer to next week’s Guest Post by Me, Colonel Shifty, in which I list a few of the things your writer can be saying to you, her support network.

New to being the Support Network for your writer? If you need a tutorial on lingo from the publishing world, you can visit my Handy Dandy Dictionary.

5 Reasons Why Writers Shouldn’t Drive

Woo! Back from my Social Media Blackout. It was very refreshing. While I’m happy to be back and check in with people, I’m coming away from this with a definite desire to set more limits on my social media use.

A comment a writer friend made got me thinking of…this. Blech. Let’s just jump in, shall we?

1. Fictional Worlds I.

You may think the writer present, noting details about her surroundings. This happens on occasion. But writers are often off in alternate realities. Another time, another place. With other people. Figuring out a plot issue, or having imaginary conversations with talkative characters (SHUT UP!). Suddenly the writer has missed several turns. She finds herself somewhere in Canada when she was trying to get to the corner store (in California) for chocolate.

2. Fictional Worlds II.

There is another, more secret kind of fictional world experienced by that of the writer (indeed, of any daydreamer). That of the fame and fortune that will, of course, inevitably be given the writer upon completion of her book. Imagining various scenarios in which she will be interviewed, how she will spend her humongous paychecks, where in Italy she plans to buy the villa – these thoughts are known to especially distract the writer whilst she drives to whatever mundane location happens to be on the day’s itinerary.

3. The Big Idea.

Ever have a sudden bolt of inspiration that just MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN? I have. Usually when I’m drifting off to sleep, taking a shower, or driving down the highway. It’s pretty easy to deal with. You stop what you’re doing, grab a pen and paper, and jot down the big idea (or super important rhyming couplet, as was a recent case for me). When driving, this is very important: PULL OVER FIRST. Sometimes pulling over isn’t possible. In which case you’re stuck either a) trying to fumble for a pen and paper and write something legible while driving 70 miles per hour (NOT RECOMMENDED), or b) repeating the bit of dialogue (or rhyming couplet) to yourself over and over until a proper pull-over place is found (NOT FUN BUT BETTER THAN DYING).

4. Words.

Words can be a problem. Specifically, for me, certain traffic directives can either totally get on my nerves, and/or provide more than a years’ worth of imagined debates. Take, for instance, SPEED LIMIT 25 WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT. It’s so ambiguous! Where do the children have to be, to be considered “present”? On the street? Behind the fences at the school? In their houses? In my car? Also, if you see a child, you slow to 25, I was told. What if the 25 mph zone continues for quite some time but there are NO other children? Can you speed up again? People frequently do. My latest beef with that particular directive is I’m trying to grammatically figure out if I have to slow down when there is only one kid. Child. Singular. Or if I have to see two kids (children, plural, as the sign says) before I must slow to 25. Either I’m distracted by the words themselves, or trying to convince an imaginary traffic cop, judge, or my sheriff brother of why I did the right thing. (Lest anyone think I’m an irresponsible driver, let me assure you: if I see a kid, I slow to 25 until I’m all the way through the school zone, end of story. I just like to argue with myself…and the people in my head.)

5. The Thoreauian Desire.

Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a project, or trying to work out a  plot problem, and I just know that if I could get away for a couple days and have total solitude, I could get the thing figured out. It’s sometimes a real danger that on a solo trip to Target, I might take the freeway by mistake and wind up in a nice hotel two towns over with my cell phone turned off. This hasn’t happened…yet. Cancun is also a real possibility. I bet there are margaritas there.

(Total sidenote: Does anyone else ever feel like a total cheater when referencing classic novels they have not, and never intend to, read?)

Colonel Shifty’s Handy Dandy Dictionary of Publishing Terms for the Lucky People Who Care for Writers

Hi, Colonel Shifty here. It recently came to my attention that while writers have a lot of support on the webternetz, the lucky souls who love and support writers are often left in the dark. What exactly does it mean to have an agent? What does the query process look like? Isn’t it easy to be a published writer, once you finally write the damn book? [Editor: Col. Shifty, let’s keep it clean. My mom reads this blog.]

Thanks to this handy dandy dictionary, when the special writer in your life is angsting over Goodreads reviews, or a revise and resubmit request, you won’t have to waste time asking what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks she’s talking about. Instead, you can get thee to the grocery store to retrieve chocolate, which is what your writer really needs.

So let’s jump right in, shall we?

Advance: Money a publisher offers an author up-front for her book. Advances vary, and I won’t even speculate on numbers here. It bears saying, though, that the writer you care for is, in her free time, daydreaming about her gigantic advance that will allow her to buy a lifetime’s supply of chocolate. And possibly hire a house keeper, and definitely a cook.

gopher money big

The Advance

Agent: An individual who agrees to submit a writer’s book to publishers. Agents typically take fifteen percent of what the publisher pays to the author. Some agents are editorial agents, which means they work with authors to polish manuscripts before submission. Some agents specialize in particular genres. If the special writer in your life is “querying” (see below), it usually means he is trying to find an agent.

Angst: A nearly constant state of being for any writer you may know and love or even encounter on the street. Even a writer deeply in love with her book and/or writing process will be filled with Angst because it is part of the definition of writer (see below).

Beta reader: A person – not necessarily a writer – who reads your writer’s work in its entirety. This can happen at any stage of the WIP (see below) but often happens toward the final revisions.

Critique group: A group of writers who share work and provide feedback to one another. If your writer has found a strong critique group which encourages him yet is not afraid to tell the truth when his writing needs work, count yourself lucky. You won’t be listening to your writer kvetch. Instead, your writer will probably be hitting you up for free babysitting while he goes to a critique group meeting. Better than listening to complaining, though, right? Critique groups can also work together over the webternetz. For a post related to writerly angst and critique, see Beth’s post here.

Editor: 1. An individual who works with your author on editing her book. 2. A freelance editor is someone your author might pay for help on her book, and 3. an editor at a publishing house will work with your author on her book as part of the publishing process.

Indie: Independent. Can refer to 1. small presses (publishers with smaller print runs) or 2. authors who have gone “indie,” that is, are self-publishing their books via CreateSpace, Smashwords, or through other methods.

Goodreads: a website chock full of reader reviews. The authors of reviewed books cannot seem to refrain from reading their reviews, often leading to Angst (see above). I, Colonel Shifty, have perused reviews and found some gems…and some that made me wince because of their harshness. If your writer is about to read reviews of his book on Goodreads, employ diversionary tactics forthwith. Cut the power lines if you must, or disable your wireless service. (DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, SABOTAGE YOUR WRITER’S COMPUTER.)

MG: Middle grade. Fiction geared toward the age group comprised of eight- to twelve-year-olds.

On Submission: When your writer’s book is “on submission,” it is being considered by editors at publishing houses.  To writers who have already published a book, the first time their book was “on submission” is remembered with fondness. To writers who have not yet published a book, being “on submission” is likened to sitting in the waiting room at the gynecologist’s office – everyone in there’s a little stir-crazy, hoping the time spent in that waiting room will be short, yet a little terrified about moving on. This is just what I hear. Remember, I am Colonel Shifty, and I don’t write books. (For an author’s take on being on submission, see the first post in an ongoing series by Natalia Sylvester, whose first book will be published in Spring 2014.)

PB: Picture book(s). Stories with pictures. Geared toward everyone, really, but primarily young children.

Pitch: The part of your writer’s query (see below) that tries to make his book sound as tantalizing as possible. There is also the “elevator pitch” or “log line,” which is the pitch in reduced form, generally about a sentence or two long.

Query: A one-page letter addressed to an agent or editor, presenting your author’s pitch and her writing credentials in the hopes of suckering encouraging said agent or editor to read her manuscript.

roller coaster

Query (verb)

Rejection: As in this handy dandy dictionary, a rejection is what usually follows a query letter. Rejection is part of writing for publication, and if you truly love your writer, you will buy him presents of chocolate, fizzy alcoholic beverages, and Thai food to soothe his Angst-filled soul.

Revise & Resubmit: Sometimes an agent or editor will request that your writer fix up her manuscript and send it back again. This is usually a good sign, indicating that the agent/editor wishes to work with your writer. Be prepared to witness alternating bouts of hysteria and paranoia and euphoria in your special writer. Feel free to leave the house/city/country for a few days. Your writer will be just fine on her own.

Royalties: The author’s percentage of the profits earned from books sold.

Synopsis: A document that strikes fear into the hearts of many a writer. It is highly unusual for writers to enjoy simplifying their plots to such a degree as to fit an entire novel into the space of two to three pages. Some writers do enjoy this process, but they are often secretive, not wishing to attract the ire of fellow writers. When synopses are spoken of in writerly settings, they are often given prefixes such as “sucky,” “crap,” and “dread,” as in, “my dread synopsis.”

WIP: Work-in-progress. A novel either in the drafting or revision stages.

le manuscript


Writer: An Angst-filled person who forms words into prose and/or verse. Personally, I distinguish “writer” from “author” in that a writer is someone who writes, whether or not that writer has published any work. An author is a person who has published a book. I make no distinctions between self-published and traditionally-published authors.

YA: Young adult. This is literature aimed at teenagers. It also is popular amongst that fascinating species, Stay-at-homus Mommaie.

I hope my Handy Dandy Dictionary of Publishing Terms for the Lucky People who Care for Writers has been handy, and dandy. If you have any questions or comments, ask ’em below.