Saturday, February 26, 2011

Questing for an Agent

So I think I'm done revising the book. Well, I suppose I'll never be done. I wrote The End on the first draft exactly a year ago. Four writer friends have read the entire book and critiqued it. I incorporated their comments, which involved some struggling. I've worked through about two-thirds of it, scene by scene, with my writer's group. I have worked through a printout, red pen in hand, copyeditor hat on. I have spellchecked it.

What's next? Try to find an agent. One of my online writer-support groups is called AgentQuest. Everybody on there is looking for an agent, and they share information about rejections and successes. Good agents and nasty ones. How to write a query letter and a synopsis. And they supportively critique same.

Here's the pitch I developed at Crime Bake last fall, which comprises the content paragraph of my query letter (note that it's convention to put the book title in all-caps so that you don't have to worry about formatting like italic or underline translating in email):

In SPEAKING OF MURDER, loner Linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau, a Quaker, uses her ear for accents to reveal secrets after her sexy star student's murder on campus. Confusing the case are an abusive department chairwoman, Lauren's friend's kidnapping, and a French heroin supplier in small-town Massachusetts. When Lauren puts aside conflicted feelings for her boyfriend, his expertise in video forensics helps her solve the mystery. The story is complete at 76,000 words.

I'm not sure that's my final paragraph, but it's a start. I also have the required one-page synopsis, and the first three chapters ready to go. Agent requirements vary, but many seem to want this triad of elements. People also say not to give up until you have 100 agent rejections under your belt.

And then? One can turn to querying small presses and try to get published, in paper, by that route. Another friend has self-published in online book format only. He's selling on Amazon and elsewhere. And since even with a publisher, big or small, authors have to do most of their own promotion anyway, that's an option. You can make more money per book if you sell online.

Ah, well. These are options for the future. Right now I'm going to focus on agents. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Story Ideas

Short story ideas rattling around:
  • Ice fishing. Suppose a couple was arguing in their ice-fishing shack. What if one stuffs the other down the fishing hole. Is it big enough? Would the body migrate away from the site?
  • Polyamory. The Boston Globe had an article about followers of this practice: having intimate relationships with more than one person. Suppose a couple had married with the agreement to follow this, then one became dissatisfied with it. What if she kills him (how?) and leaves the body in a snowstorm so it isn't discovered until spring?
  • The body in the server room. Oh -- that one I finished and submitted to a contest. Stand by!
  • The high-powered female corporate titan and her three greedy sons. This one brainstormed by Allan on our way home from Montreal last weekend. On the model of King Lear but modernized and gender reversed.
  • Snowmobile patrol finds a body. Possibly involving a border crossing. Another family brainstorm. Can you tell we were driving through snowy winter scenes? We even filled up with gas Friday after dark at a tiny gas station near the border where all other pumps were being utilized by snowmobiles. Two cats sat in the lit windows of the mini-mart. Intriguing scene almost pleading to be written about.
Other ideas out there you'd like to contribute? Bring them on!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Machine Translation: Potential for Crime?

My friend Karin posts on Facebook in Swedish. This makes sense. She's Swedish. I amuse myself by reading her posts out loud and trying to figure out what she's saying. I've studied German, which is, if not a sister language, then certainly a kissin' cousin of Swedish.

For example, she recently wrote: "Det blir ju inget varmvatten när man har luftvärmepump! Antingen får jag elda lite för att kunna ta en dusch, eller helt enkelt gå o träna för då ingår dusch. Kan man duscha på gymet utan att ha tränat först? Kan man se matinköp som träning?"

I read it. Hmm. Something about 'wind warm pump'. 'Dusch' sounds a little like 'douche,' 'sh
ower' in French. 'Kan man' sounds like 'Kann man...' in German: 'Can one...? Then my friend Tim M ran it through Google Translate, getting the following results:

It'll no hot water when you have a heat pump! Either I get burned a bit in order to take a shower, or simply go o work out for the shower included.
Can you take a shower at the gym without having practiced first? Can you see food shopping as exercise?"

This is fun. I was right about the "Can one...?" and "shower." But look at the grammar and fractured English in the automatic translation. Swedish and English are pretty closely related. Can't Google the Great do any better than that?

Then imagine the potential for international criminals sending messages with machine translation, and what a forensic linguist could do with that. Ahh, says the writer, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. So much material, so little time...

Do you have experience with automatic translation gone bad, or even human-produced results misunderstood?