Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Query Critique: Sampling a New World

The people voted yesterday and the people have spoken: since only 1% you voted for option C, I can only conclude that a full 99% of you want to be in Brody Jenner's cell phone. Wow. (Although judging from the extensive contacts in his cell, 97% of you are probably already in it.)

Also, people are split pretty evenly between those saying they'll die with paper books (hopefully not DUE to paper books) and those who are either somewhat or totally ready for e-books, assuming there are some technological breakthroughs. Very interesting.

Query critique time! As a reminder, if you receive a rejection from me, you may volunteer to have your query critiqued politely, anonymously, and haphazardly on my blog. I'm afraid I can't guarantee that I'll use your query on the blog, but if it sparks an idea or if I feel it would be useful I may take you up on it.

And as always, please be as polite and nice to the anonymous author as possible. Mean and/or unconstructive comments will be dealt with swiftly and harshly, particularly the anonymous sarcastic ones.

Mean anonymous comments, you are officially on notice. All military options are on the table.

Now then. First I'll show the query in full so you get a sense of the flow, then I'll provide my comments.

---

I read your blog daily because I enjoy both your sense of humor and the enthusiasm you show for your work there, and also because I greatly appreciate the advice you give aspiring writers. Thank you for donating your time in this manner, and Godspeed in your battle against query letters beginning with rhetorical questions. Please consider DARK HEIR, my 94,000 word fantasy novel, for representation.

Katirin is a princess of such embarrassing parentage her family forced her into a convent to get her out of the royal succession. When she discovers the convent's bland and blissful priestesses--women who share a communal mind and do little except sing--aren't really the god's mouthpieces at all, but empty husks puppeteered by a demon, Katirin realizes she must find a way out of the convent or the demon will devour her soul.

For Katirin, however, escaping telepathic priestesses and irate nobility isn't enough--not when she can see the demon's hunger will one day destroy the nation she should have ruled. Katirin vows to stop the creature, but she needs to answer one question first--how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies?

I am a physicist, visual artist and rock climber. DARK HEIR is my first novel and is complete and available upon request. I have pasted the first five pages of the novel below. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.

---

This is a solid query. Good personalization (not just saying she reads my blog but making an in-joke -- always appreciated), and well-written. I was just a tad confused about the setting (the entire novel takes place in a convent? would priestesses who do little but sing be interesting?), but I liked the idea of having to battle a demon inhabiting multiple bodies. I feel that way every time I have to call my cable company. (rimshot!)

So this query critique isn't really about the query. It's about the sample pages the author provided. Here is the opening:

----

Shadows clung to the corners of the dormitory as predawn painted the sleeping initiates gray. The room whispered a chorus of soft breathing.

Katirin's trunk yawned open on her bed, pale robes forming the tongue of its mouth. Katirin tossed a pair of stockings in, then turned to face Esfirre again. "Help you. I can't even help myself. What am I supposed to do, hide you under my wimple?"

No, in your coach. The luggage compartment. Esfirre curled her signing hand to preserve its heat, then shifted her weight to dab one foot atop the other's toes.

Katirin made her tone cut. "And what would that accomplish? My guards would find you."

Anger creased Esfirre's face and her fingers flashed through more sign language. Not right away, and it might be enough. Haven't you a spine?

Katirin's outrage warred with her urge to laugh. "That, I still retain."

I don't have any way off this island.

"And contrary to appearances, neither do I."

If you don't help me escape the Taish, I'll kill myself instead!

Katirin snorted a laugh. "Oh. Well, that I could help you with. How do you intend to do it? A noose of torn sheet? A knife slipped from the kitchens?"

Frustration etched lines in Esfirre's young face. Don't mock me. I'm serious.

Katirin felt the smile slide off her face. "I know it. So am I. Come, and I'll prove it." She turned and walked to the narrow slot window at the end of the dormitory. Katirin swung the glass wide and stepped up onto the stone sill, then looked back.

Amid the shadows, Esfirre frowned her irritation.

Katirin flared her eyes at the younger woman, then slid sideways through the window. The sky fanned icy pink and blue around her and open air gulped at her feet. A thick vine, scabby and studded by puckered leaves, clung to the convent's outer wall. Katirin found her usual handholds and began to climb. The vine hissed and showered brown flakes down her sleeves.

---

Nathan again. I start reading hundreds and hundreds of novels every year. Several a day. And it's not an easy thing to do -- one thing I never realized until I became an agent and began reading so many books is that it takes a great deal of mental work just to start a novel, because it takes a lot of brain energy to get your bearings. Every detail you read in the beginning establishes where you are, who the characters are, what they're like, etc. and your mind has to piece things together, which isn't always easy.

So it's extremely, extremely important to get the reader on very sound footing as soon as possible and to ease them into a new world. Even if you're throwing the reader into a very unique setting and a chaotic situation (a gun battle on a foreign planet, for instance, or a apocalyptic future featuring unique slang, a la CLOCKWORK ORANGE), it's so important to put things in context for the reader and to begin teaching them the "rules" of the world. Basically showing the reader what aspects of the world are like ours, and which aren't.

As much as I like the premise of this query, I'm afraid I didn't feel that there was solid grounding here. Starting off with a conversation is tricky, and rather than learning as I went along I found myself more and more confused about what was happening and where and when it was happening.

I also had some concerns about the writing. There were times when the dialogue was stilted ("That, I still retain,") but perhaps more importantly, I honestly felt that although the author really tried to create some unique imagery, I felt like the description tried too hard. As a very rudimentary rule of thumb, description should be as clear as possible, except when something is indescribable in simple language, in which case it can be more expansive.

Lastly, I've been noticing that many writers these days are relying on descriptions of facial expressions in order to convey emotion. For example, just in the last part of this passage, Esfirre's face was lined with frustration, Katirin felt her smile fall off her face, Esfirre frowned her irritation, and Katirin flared her eyes. I'm not going to name names, but some very, very successful published authors employ this technique, but I'd be very careful and very judicious in how you use it -- descriptions of facial expressions really only thinly veiled ways of telling the reader what emotion the character is feeling. Unique gestures, dialogue and actions tend to be much more interesting ways of describing the way someone is feeling and go further toward creating interesting characters. Emotions and facial expressions are universal -- how people deal with emotions and express those emotions are unique.

Thanks again to the author for participating!






36 comments:

Marti said...

God bless the author for allowing you to share this with us, and thanks to you for showing us what the problem areas are.

I found the writing interesting, but as you said, a bit stilted. I never thought of a person "snorting a laugh". I understand what the meaning is (laughing with a snort) but the phrasing is awkward.

I wish the author all the best though! Editing again and again is tedious, but it's the only way hone the craft and come up with writing that sings, without hitting a sour note.

Hugs and happy holidays!

Merry Jelinek said...

I think they did a fabulous job - kudos to the author.

I agree, too, with Marti, revisions can be hard, but it's better to hear this now and get the chance to really hone the revisions so that the writing best showcases what is definitely an intriquing story.

It's a hard balance, too, that first chapter, really the first page, has to not only help the reader get his balance, but also pull him in... It's hard, I think maybe more so with a setting so far away from current reality, to include enough detail to ground the reader without slowing down the story's progress.

Great work, though, brave author... thanks for sharing.

And thank you, Nathan, for posting it with your critique for us.

Josephine Damian said...

Josie *waves* to the "mystery" querier. ;-)

Here's my (hopefully not mean) thoughts on the query alone:

I thought the personalized paragraph could have been a bit shorter, maybe a pithy, witty one-liner about what a fun and way cool agent Nathan is on his blog
(and no doubt everywhere else.)

Writer, nice job presenting the title, genre and word count in one concise line.

The parts of the query where the writer used dashes kinda bothered me, almost as if they felt the need to explain what they'd just said in the part of the sentence prior to part between the dashes, JMO. Thought those sections could be re-worked in a more plain and straight forward manner, and elinimate what seems like "aside comments" to me.

I thought the last paragraph conveyed the writer as a person with an interesting, diverse back-ground.

Marti: luv your avatar!

zee_bashful_author said...

Nathan, thank you.

That was way more feedback than I expected, and it's clearly expressed, specific, and so very, very useful. Thanks so much for doing this. (Best rejection I ever got!) You're a star, and I really do appreciate this.

To the blog readers: have at it! I am honestly interested in anything you have to say about the piece, good or bad, and I thank you for being willing to help me improve as a writer.

Erik said...

Since I often criticize your profession here, I think I should be one of the first to say thanks for that and it was very helpful. I really appreciated the level of detail and the more holistic view of what worked and didn't.

Sophie W. said...

I think Nathan hit all the main problems, and I think this will be more of a learning experience for me than anything, so I will sit back and watch.

One thing I must say, the author did a very good job of portraying sign language. Unfortunately, I thought Esfirre was some kind of magical familiar because she spoke in italics, until you explained that she was mute.

Heidi the Hick said...

I think this is a very interesting concept!

Writer, you know you've got to do lots of rewrites and edits...WE ALL DO! It's part of the process. Let yourself relax and keep working!

I got my best rejection ever here too. And yeah, still working at it!

R.C. said...

I like this query, and I thought the story sounded interesting. Why is one woman using sign language, the reader asks herself. Very mysterious.

Nathan, in looking up your submission guidelines I found you to be a query only agent. Is it normal for people to attach 5 pages?

Thanks for sharing.

Nathan Bransford said...

r.c.-

It's ok if people copy in some sample pages into the actual e-mail, but I don't include this in my submission guidelines because I don't want to start receiving them as attachments.

Phoenix said...

Good query, Author. When I reached its end, I was really most puzzled about what Nathan might say regarding it.

Then I read your opening paragraph.

There is a delicate line between rich, evocative description that delights a reader and heavy, encumbered description that a reader must work hard to get through. Oftentimes, it's only the addition of a word or two that separates the one from the other.

For instance, the predawn light painting the sleeping initiates gray is enough. That shadows cling to the corners is unnecessary information. It's predawn -- of course there are still shadows.

And a room doesn't really whisper. Try A chorus of soft breathing whispered through the room.

Try Katirin's trunk yawned open, revealing a tongue of pale robes. Readers know where a tongue is located, so saying "forming the tongue of its mouth" feels very redundant.

Write your first draft as floridly as you like. Then edit ruthlessly afterward. Not every noun needs an adjective. And very few nouns need more than one adjective. Especially when noun and adjective say essentially the same thing, like narrow slot window.

I also thought at first, as Sophie did, that Esfirre was perhaps a cat or other familiar. Not only the italics but her name made me think non-human.

Best of luck! That you're reaching out and are willing to do what it takes to improve is 99% of the battle!

R.C. said...

Thanks Nathan. I also wanted to mention to the author that something about the following sentence was confusing to me:

"K. is a princess of such embarrassing parentage her family forced her into a convent to get her out of the royal succession."

I think if my parents forced me into a convent, embarrassment wouldn't be my emotion of choice. I know you mean to say she has bad parents, but I think you can say this in a stronger, clearer way. "K's parents forced her into a convent to keep her from her rightful inheritance." That action kind of speaks for itself, you don't have to explain that her parentage is embarrassing.

Just my $.02. It is a great premise, so don't give up!

Linnea said...

You are a brave girl! My own thoughts are that there isn't sufficient in the introduction for me to figure out where I am, who the speakers are and what their relationship might be. Because we know our characters and story so well, it's often difficult to get that balance just right so readers will instantly feel connected to the world we create. Good luck with your revisions.

Karen Duvall said...

Lovely query, zee bashful author. 8^)

I really like the unique set-up of your fantasy, but I couldn't help wondering what the real premise is. I understand a demon is after Katirin's soul, but why? How will devouring her soul destroy the nation? Without knowing the answer to these two questions, I don't get the point of the story.

I did enjoy your opening pages. Though tightening your prose is needed, as others have pointed out, I personally like starting to read a bid mid-action, and beginning with some opening dialogue works for me. It forces me to get caught up in events before I know what's going on, so by the time such needed information is revealed, I'm already emotionally invested in the characters. But that's from a reader's point of view, not an agent's or and editor's.

Good luck with this! 8^)

cc said...

Um, yeah, what phoenix said...

I'm guilty of overwriting as well, so I understand where this author is coming from. But the good news is overwriting his quite easy to fix once you get the flow of it.

For the first paragraph try... In the predawn light the other initiates slept. But Katirin placed a pair of stockings in her trunk. "Help you. I can't even..."

Later on, instead of: "... Anger creased Esfirre's face and her fingers flashed through more sign language. "Not right away..."

Try: Estirre's face hardened. "Not right away," she signed. "Haven't you a spine?"

Really, you don't even need the "Estirre's face hardened," either... the urgency of the dialogue lets the reader know Estirre is panicked.

Lyrical writing is great but when you have to read a sentence a couple times to know what's really being said, then it's time to start cutting.

Thanks for letting us see your query/pages. Good luck to you and godspeed!

Julie Weathers said...

All right. Please accept this in the spirit intended. These are my opinions and opinions are worth what you pay for them. I’m going to treat this as I would one from my writing group, so please don’t be offended.

Nice opening to Nathan, but too long. A brief nod to the agent, letting them know you are familiar with them and possibly what they represent. I used to offer bribes of gift certificates for pralined pecans, but I understand enticing agents with food isn’t acceptable behavior these days. In lieu of pralined pecans, a few pertinent remarks about them is acceptable, I suppose, though I still think food is the perfect bribe. I liked your succinct presentation of the novel with word count etc.

The second sentence in the novel description is unwieldy to me. Em dashes should be used sparingly as they jar the eye. I want to get lost in a story. Don’t give me any reason to quit focusing on it. Roiled is a lovely word, but when an author tosses it through a story like confetti, like one who shall not be named does, I want to demonstrate roil to them. Same with punctuation. Use it in such a manner that it doesn’t draw attention to itself.

I tried reading the sentence aloud and it left me breathless from sheer length. Reading my work aloud is always helpful to me. My ear detects things my eye misses. Pretend you have sold your novel and it’s being made into an audio book. Do the words flow seamlessly? Do you let the reader come up for air?

"Katirin vows to stop the creature, but she needs to answer one question first--how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies?"

This could be dramatic, but posing the question like this loses the punch.

Killing a demon who lives in a thousand bodies is impossible, but Katirin knows she must to save her country.

Clumsy, but you get the idea.

"Shadows clung to the corners of the dormitory as predawn painted the sleeping initiates gray. The room whispered a chorus of soft breathing.

Katirin's trunk yawned open on her bed, pale robes forming the tongue of its mouth. Katirin tossed a pair of stockings in, then turned to face Esfirre again. "Help you. I can't even help myself. What am I supposed to do, hide you under my wimple?"

Beautiful description is hard. I don’t do it well and finally resigned myself to the truth. I have some friends who leave me vowing never to write another word because they do it so well. I’ve found for myself, the answer is to do a Marilyn Monroe. Sometimes wearing a simple, well-designed black dress with gold heels is much more attractive than layers of flounces and frills.

Lines like, “skies the color of torn plums,” and “cows drinking their reflections,” can be more powerful than paragraphs of description. Concentrate on the action and toss out a gem of description carefully so it is treasured.

You have an intriguing situation here, don’t dilute it with unnecessary description or confuse the reader.

Write to your strengths. What do you do extremely well?

I think the premise of your story is fascinating and has some real potential. Let that shine through.

Best of luck with your novel.

Other Lisa said...

Now, see, I like the question raised in:

"Katirin vows to stop the creature, but she needs to answer one question first--how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies?"

- even if I guess it's kind of a rhetorical question.

I'd just shorten it to:

"Katirin vows to stop the creature, but how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies?"

Or something like that.

Libby said...

I think you're trying a little too hard to make everything unique and interesting. This has the paradoxical effect of flattening the prose. Try to use flourishes sparingly; only when what you're saying needs it.

You can obviously write: I'm just feeling your effort a tad too much.

cynjay said...

I'm just impressed that the writer is a physicist. Keep that in your query - it's cool.

LindaBudz said...

Love the query, and premise!

One thought. It's a small thing, and just my opinion, but when you do have those descriptive dialogue tags (and I think Nathan is right that there may be too many of them here), I generally prefer to place them after the dialogue or within the dialogue.

E.g., "And what would that accomplish?" Katirin made her tone cut. "My guards would find you."

Good luck, bashful! :)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've seen this before on Crapometer, so kudos to the author for taking it a step further here. Nathan is a valuable critter, nice guy, yada yada. :D

I think the descriptions here get in the way of your characters--especially your verb usuage in relationship to things and your metaphors. Two points about this. Remember, we've just met Katarin. The more the first pages focus on her, the more willingly we will follow her around in her strange new world. Which leads me to my second point, we're in a strange, new speculative world in this book. How do I know that vines in this world don't literally "hiss" when they're tugged on? It seems dumb, but really, when we're tasting a new fantasy, we're ready for anything to happen, so you must be careful how you present things. Save some of your intriguing description for later when we're better grounded.

Just a thought: Could it be that this is not quite where your story begins? Is this conversation really the propelling event of your story? Only you can answer that, but it's something to think over carefully.

But my major issue is easily remedied, which is scene setting. From your query I know she is supposed to be sent to a convent, but I don't know where she is--not from your pages. Initiates and dormitory could signal a cult or a college fraternity, for all I know. Plain old boring clarity is an important issue to tackle here. In focusing on your forbidding details, maybe you forgot to back up a bit and give the reader the widescreen view.

"She said" would solve a lot of Nathan's quibbles with facial expressions. Make your dialogue work for its keep and express more than just the spoken word. I can see the potential for you to do that here. Read it aloud; I'm sure you've heard that before.

Sorry so long--but I don't waste time on worthless writing. There are gems in this and the premise is solid. Keep at it and good luck!

Kate said...

Thanks to Nathan and the author! Examples like these are incredibly helpful!!

Loren said...

This crit is probably a little off the wall, but, I know a few things about sign language, and when it's 'spoken' well it's a language of few words. It's also a language of concepts; for instance, the sign for 'brother' is 'man-same'. Not that I assume you are using American Sign Language.

Anyway, to the point, I think the signing character's dialog should be a little more choppy, and to the point, especially when she's signing quickly, or angrily.

Amy said...

I really liked the idea of the demon in multiple bodies, but I agree with karen duvall - we need a motivation for the demon.

My other comment is something that I'm running into with my own manuscript. Maybe here it's just a lack of info in the query. Katirin sounds, well, kinda vanilla. I would suggest incorporating a couple interesting details about the main character in the query.

Luc2 said...

Thanks Nathan, and author.

I liked the query, but the wordiness of the pages got to me. Good luck with the rewrites. Some solid suggestions here.

Nice quote at the end, Nathan:
Emotions and facial expressions are universal -- how people deal with emotions and express those emotions are unique.
So true, but I sometimes forget it while writing.

Anonymous said...

Author ... you're one gutsy critter and I have total respect for that! And you can definitely write -- evocative language, good visuals, etc.

I think starting with dialogue is very, very hard, because it means you have to convey setting, tone and voice while using someone else (i.e., your character). It's a trick to pull off, and unless your dialogue is the voice (a la Anthony Burgess), I don't think I'd try it.

One of my writerly friends once told me that "plot over prose" is the way to go, and I guess I agree. I like to start in the middle of action, keep the prose lean and tight (save your admirable flourishes and wonderful descriptive abilities for later, dole them out like truffles) and plunge me headlong into the story. Thus, maybe start with the climb ... or whatever happens beyond. I've read that Dickens was a madman for first sentences, and I know that John Irving pays particular attention to them. So I always try to give a first sentence that's like a smack in the face with cold water. My belief: you give one good, active sentence at the start, and you've bought yourself a page. You give one good page, and you've bought yourself a chapter. A good chapter ... and you've got a reader. Pace, pace, pace. Was the DaVinci Code art? I dunno ... but, man, was it ever a compelling read.

Your writing is very strong, and I think the hook is wonderful. So inventive! Really, my only advice is to maybe start with plot, not character, and let the unfolding action reveal who your characters are, because after all, aren't we really defined by what happens to us and what we do about it?

Jon

Vinnie Sorce said...

Two questions:

1. Can the author revise and resubmit or is that not a usual process?

2. You said you liked the story. Is it too much work to guide the author along or did you feel it was not sellable at all?

Jess said...

Everyone's said what needs to be said, so I'll just chime in with a, "Great query! The story sounds very promising." And add, "But upon reading, you need to pare it down. It's overwritten. Although, with revision, this is probably an easier problem to fix than, say, an incoherent plot or ridiculous pacing (which are, ahem, MY problems)."

Good luck!

Helen said...

but I'd be very careful and very judicious in how you use it -- descriptions of facial expressions really only thinly veiled ways of telling the reader what emotion the character is feeling. Unique gestures, dialogue and actions tend to be much more interesting ways of describing the way someone is feeling and go further toward creating interesting characters.

I think I am guilty of this in my writing. It's definitely something I'm going to keep in mind when I start rewriting again. Thanks very much, both to the author for allowing the critque to be posted and to Nathan for doing it.

Karen Duvall said...

but I'd be very careful and very judicious in how you use it -- descriptions of facial expressions really only thinly veiled ways of telling the reader what emotion the character is feeling. Unique gestures, dialogue and actions tend to be much more interesting ways of describing the way someone is feeling and go further toward creating interesting characters.

I hope writers don't stop describing facial expressions because of this, lol! I think the important distinction her is what Nathan said about "telling." It's the viewpoint character's interpretation of those expressions that can be key. Esfirre's face creasing with anger doesn't reveal much, but if her jaw tightened as if biting back the words she couldn't speak, that tells us something about the character. 1) that Esfirre's a mute; 2) Katirin knows her well enough to understand her unspoken emotions.

Isak said...

When other writers usually had me a WIP its usually a fantasy or sci-fi type of novel. I think the hardest thing about writing one of those is establishing the world. From my experience, I think the writer usually is either trying to make that world unique from all the other fantasy books out there, or they know that world so well in their heads that they neglect to fill the reader in on what elements that fantasy world is comprised. On top of that, I think there's also a bit of balance that takes place at the start of any book because on the one hand, there is a whole world to introduce but also, the story has to draw in the audience.

And actually, I thought this one did a good job of introducing things like the sign language, which I didn't understand at first, but I didn't have to read much further in to get that aspect of the world to click. I mean, there are even a few clues as to where Kaitirin is (i.e., "wipple") but I agree that maybe this book starts before this; how and why she's in this convent.

Justin said...

First of all, thank you Brave Author, for sharing your query letter. You're braver than I am, so good show. Your query letter is actually really good and interesting, and I was asking myself why the devil Mr. Bransford passed it up. But as he said, the issue is with your attached writing, not the query.

I'd agree with Mr. Bransford. The start of this piece left me feeling more than a little confused. As a result, I kept trying to catch up or fill in the blanks in my head as I read along, which only made me feel left behind and like I was missing more stuff.

The beginning of a book of any subject or genre is so important. Most people will read the dust jacket, and then the first few lines. I may give a book a few pages to get rolling if it's a little slow at first, but if it's confusing I just give up. If I'm having trouble keeping up with the story, I can't really enjoy it.

Best of luck to you though, this sounds like a really interesting premise.

Christine said...

The query was phenomenal - I hope the writer keeps working on the manuscript, because I'd love to see this in print.

zee_bashful_author said...

Thank you to everyone who commented; I really value this feedback. You've all given such great (and detailed!) advice, and you've been incredibly kind about it also. I will study and assimilate all your comments before planning how to rewrite this book.

Thanks so much, to all of you, for your generosity of spirit. This experience has been just wonderful.

(And, y'know, painful. But I thank you anyway! :-) )

Cheers,
JJ

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

"and you've been incredibly kind about it also."

JJ, Nathan threatened us with military operations and so forth. Well, he threatened mean, anon people, but wise people understand the implications.

Seriously, what good does ripping someone's heart out accomplish? When I crit for people I try to find the things that work as well as the things that don't.

As I said in my comments, find your strengths and write to them.

I come from a ranching background and raise Quarter Horses. I've been a staff writer for a racing magazine for seventeen years. I like puzzles and I have a warped sense of humor.

I gave up trying to write prose that makes a person want to read something over and over because it is simply so beautiful. I can't do it. Now I stick to stories with horses, plots that fit together like a puzzle and characters with very odd personalities. I may not ever be a household name, but I'm comfortable in my skin and I enjoy playing with my characters.

You've got a lot of things going for you. Play to your strengths. Improve your weaknesses and hit your stride.

((Deleted first post because I screwed up quotes.))

emmadarwin said...

Just found this blog - a worthy successor to Miss Snark. I'm an author, but I also do critiques for an editorial service, and it's fascinating to see other people's take on this kind of thing. I also know how much courage it takes to put your work up for this kind of scrutiny, so respect for that.

And thanks, Nathan, because your discussion of the hard work of starting to read a novel prompted a post on my own blog, so thanks for that, too!

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