Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Electronic Intern

Lori and I have a new electronic intern working with us... he shall remain nameless because that just makes him more mysterious and fun. =) I recently wrote him a rambling e-mail, trying to help narrow down some of my book tastes, to help with sorting through query letters... it is execerpted below, for your elucidating pleasure.

Dear Electronic Intern:

I love epic fantasies, but I want them to be done in shades of gray, not just black and white. Some great examples are Sara Douglass' "The Wayfarer Redemption" series or Jacqueline Carey's "Kushiel" series. I want complex, motivated, and most important of all, human, protagonists. Human in the sense of the word that I can empathize with them. I don't care if the main character is a goblin, a snake-charmer, or an elf--I just want to find something about them that I can relate to. I also want, if it's a quest fantasy, for the quest to have an actual point... why the hell are they off searching for the mystical object and trying to save the world? Give me a justification for wanting to read it.

I also am starting to like a lot of fantasy that's slipstream: Jeffrey Ford, Delia Sherman, Kelly Link, Theodora Goss, our own Cat Rambo... I love them all. They take ordinary things and make them extraordinary, by finding the story within them. Holly Phillips is a prime example of this with her story, "The Other Grace".

I love, love, love dark fantasy. I've been a Tanith Lee fan for almost forever, although I like some of her novels better than others. China Mieville is also great. I have a very morbid streak to me.

Conversely, I also like things that are humorous; Terry Pratchett is a big fave of mine. But your sense of humor might not be my sense of humor, so it's hard to judge with those. I also want things to make sense in a fantasy novel; it's not enough to throw together a mishmash of plot elements.

And most importantly of all, I want a novel that tells me a good story. I'm not in this business to admire the best writing that an author can produce... I'm here to get told good stories. I want to be sucked in, absolutely absorbed, and to keep reading because I *know* it's going to get good later on. Or even better than it is.

I'm willing to look at almost anything that's fantasy, as long as it's original, which is my key criteria for making judgement calls about the material. Don't give me a Harry Potter clone... please... on the other hand, if you manage to find me another Philip Pullman, I'll love you forever.

In regards to science fiction, I like things that are understandable. I love Scalzi's work; it embodies the (recently-coined term of) the "New Comprehensibility", whereby it's understandable to the reader. It reminds me of old-school SF, like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov, all of who I love. Hard science fiction is good, but it has to be understandable to me. I'm physics-challenged here; if you've got a novel that hinges on a heavy physics concept, it better be explained REALLY well.

I like science fiction that's thought-provoking and interesting too... sort of like what Lori was saying with social science fiction. And I also want interesting stories... I'm all about the stories here. You can have cool ideas, but give me a story to go with those ideas.

I'm a sucker for a good romance, but again, I want the romance to make sense. One of the best descriptions of what a good romance is, comes from an editor I know, who told me, "I want to be able to take most of the romance out of the book, and still have a good novel." And she's right.

I love historical romances. Regencies... oh boy, those are my favorites. Also Victorian romances or even Georgian (17th century). I like plucky heroines and smart heroes, but I don't want it to be the type of variety where the hero is like, "I will just throw you into bed and ravage you now." I have a soft spot for bluestockings... educated females who love to read (I wonder who that sounds like? *looks innocently around*). I'm not as crazy about medieval romances, purely because they're very often inaccurate. I really like the historical details to be accurate. I would love to see a good romance set in 1600s England; there are so few of those.

I detest Westerns. I detest the Civil War. American pioneer stories are ok; those I find interesting.

I'm open to pretty much any type of paranormal romance, at the moment, although I'm really not buying into the "portal to another world" ones right now. That may pass, but I'm currently really sick of that trend.

In terms of religious fiction, I don't want anything that's Christian. I don't understand it; can't interpret it; and it doesn't interest me.

I like fat girl stories, ones with running in them, ones with cooking, or a quirky twist to them. I love reading about places that I've never been (most of the world). I adore manga and anime and many things Japanese. I don't know much about Australian Aborigines, although I'd be interested to find a novel about them, in some way, if it was good. Jewish stories are good too, but it really depends on what the book is about overall.

Like Lori, I'm a lovely liberal Democrat, and I really can't see myself doing anything that's Republican-ish. I'm a Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann type of girl. Similarly, I don't want to read any books about rogue FBI agents falling in love with small-town Southern girls, or about the War on Terror. No novels on Iraq, since I'll argue about it violently with anyone.

I believe in global warming, I love ice skating, I play video games. I'm a geek girl and proud to admit it. =)



James Dashner said...

Dear Electronic Intern,

You need to know that a guy named James Dashner is Jenny's favorite client, and that he should always receive priority in any of your work. She may or may not tell you this, and she may even go so far as to tell you it's NOT true, but don't believe her.

Okay, kidding. What exactly is an electronic intern anyway? Is that like Number 5 from that Short Circuit movie or whatever it was called?

btw Jenny, did you know I used to live in Japan and I speak Japanese?

Sorry to ramble. Loved reading about what you like and don't like. That'll be very valuable for your potentials, and you should post it along with your guidelines.

Kimber An said...

Okay, this is just scary. If the Electronic Intern starts calling you 'Dear,' like the Enterprise computer did with Captain Kirk, you might want to re-think his program.

Gina Black said...

I wrote a lovely historical romance set in 1663. It's even got a gray tabby in it. ;)

Kim said...

Ahhh... I, too, have a 17th century historical romance, only it's set in the Caribbean... how do you feel about tropical climes??

JC Madden said...


Does no one like medievals anymore except me?

*cries again*

And how do you feel about urban fantasy? Tired of it? Just doesn't hit your buttons?

Laura K said...

Umm...Jenny...I don't think you're doing too well on the "narrowing down" part. You've probably eliminated, what, .01% of the submissions you might get?

I understand the "nothing written by Dick Cheney", but since Lynn Cheney wrote steamy romances, does the fact that she's a neocon necessarily mean that her steamy romances wouldn't float your boat? (Of course the fact that the prose was beyond purple -- and I know that's a disgusting term to use in regards to a romance novel -- would probably disqualify it anyway.)

But as a fat-girl-travels-all-over-the-place-solving-murders-while-falling-in-love-and-having-an-unusual-profession writer, I find your list most encouraging.

terrence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Avril Morris said...

And that is why I adore my agent. :)

December Quinn said...

Jenny, please please don't hate me if I point out that Georgian is the 18th century, not the 17th.

There is overlap--George I was crowned in 1714, and George IV died in 1830--but the 17th century is Jacobean, Parliamentarian, Civil War, Restoration...Stuart. (And a fascinating period, especially the Restoration and the court of Charles II.)

Sorry, I'm just working on a book set in the Georgian period at the moment so it's really on the brain.

Please don't hate me!

kiwi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kiwi said...

Oh and James (that's Dashner), Jenny's favorite client? I think you're pushing it buddy. With the last flame war solely your fault, I'm surprised Jenny hasn't torn up your contract. And for the record, my ex-wife sold a comic to X-famous agent, not a picture book.

december quinn: I agree with you, absolutely adore the Stewart period. Though,literature wise, 19th Century English lit trumps all in my view.

kiwi said...

A novel about Australian Aborigines? If you’re thinking of a story set in the present then a fictionalised account of the ‘Redfern riots’ in Sydney might interest you. The story uses this event as a touchstone to paint a dark and bloody future for the great southern land. Deeply sociological, the tale portrays the explosive reality that occurs when alienation and impoverishment articulate with the resurgence in indigenous identity in a land shaped by decades of institutional racism and a tokenisitic reconcilation process.

When I will not be crushed, and I have no voice, there is only the gun.

In short, it's a damning criticism of the approach consecutive Australian governments have taken toward aborigines and speaks volumes about the plight of indigenous peoples everywhere.

My agent hates it. Bugger. Told me to keep writing epic fantasy.

Jenny Rappaport said...

december quinn, I don't hate you at all! I fully admit that I screwed up my English time periods, but for the record, I'd love to see something set in either the 17th or 18th century England.

kim, tropical climates are all good! Especially since they're often so complex with all the tensions of colonialism; I think that's why stories of the British Raj work so well for me, by the way. (That's India in colonial times, but same principle.)

laura k, that's actually a good question. I base my decision to represent your work on whether your writing is any good. So if you're writing a romance novel and it doesn't have anything to do with necon politics (even though you're an ardent neocon yourself) that doesn't mean we can't work together. But if you've written me a 700 page treatise on the Bush Doctrine, then I'm not the right person for that project.

kiwi, I wouldn't despair entirely over your aborigine novel, since agents can sometimes share clients. It doesn't happen often, but I will give you Shannon Hale, Newberry Honor winner, as my prime example. Shannon write spectacular children's and YA books; she's an author I always love to read. Her representative for the children's fiction has been Barry Goldblatt, who I don't know personally, but who I've heard is a good guy in the agenting field. Shannon decided, at some point, that she wanted to write a women's fiction novel about Jane Austen, which is something that Barry doesn't represent at all. So Barry called up one of my colleagues, Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary, who is a genius at selling stuff like that. The two of them came to a deal together, whereby Nadia now represents Shannon's women fiction (first book, AUSTENLAND, coming out this year; I can't wait to read it!), and Barry handles her children's and YA. I don't know the exact details of the deal, but that's the basic gist of it.

Similarly, Nadia and I have recently decided that we're going to "share" Lawrence M. Schoen as a client; Nadia will be representing his YA fiction and I'll be handling his adult science fiction and fantasy. It requires more coordination between agents, regarding publication dates and book comittments, but it's definitely do-able.

December Quinn said...

Then if you don't like my current project, I will absolutely query you on my new one when it's done.


Bernita said...

I'm with JC.

KingM said...

This is a great post in that it makes one think about subjectivity in the business and how selling books is different from selling widgets. Another linkable post from my own blog...

Kim said...

It's in its final revision stage and next I will be brushing up on my query... you have been warned! :)

James Dashner said...

Kiwi, I don't remember starting the last flame war, but I do remember you defending me, so it must've been just as much your fault. :-)

katiesandwich said...

This is a gold mine. I'm so glad you posted this! From reading your guidelines and this blog, I still wasn't sure if my book would interest you or not, so I didn't put you on my "Round One: Agent List." Of course, I'm still not certain, but I think maybe you'll like what I've got. So now I must adjust my to-query list accordingly!

kiwi said...

Jenny, thanks for the suggestion. In an ideal world this would be the perfect scenario. Unfortunately I have the agent from hell. Her concern is that I'll spend too much time writing in the genre she doesn't sell and thus she doesn't like sharing clients. As you can see she's not a particularly chartible lady. Having said that her hard-nosed approach to the publishing industry has secured me some good deals, so I can complain overly loudly. And anyway,I still love writing epic fantasy too much to make it an issue (yet).

Either way, my problem, not yours.

James, one must destroy the evidence before denying anything. And I quote (just so people don't think I've lost the plot entirely.)

James dashner wrote.

"Kiwi and I would like to announce that we are actually the two anons and have had quite a jolly time yanking your chains.

Kiwi, I mean, anon 3:16, you suck.

... yes, very sneaky, trying to wiggle out of it :)

James Dashner said...

Kiwi, very funny.

Just for the record, neither Kiwi nor I have ever posted anything as an anon. Well, not true, because Kiwi is actually anonymous......

kiwi said...

Okay, James, i give up, you win. I'm .... and I have written ... damnit, bloody keyboard!

EGP said...

I love the blog, but until now, I had concluded that I should not submit my query because it didn't fit the genre guidelines I've seen for you. However, now that I see some of your specifics. . .

Would you be interested in a global warming conspiracy thriller?

BuffySquirrel said...

Kiwi has posted as an anon. I remember twitting him about it.

kiwi said...

... sold that bridge yet, Buffysquirrel. And, while we're on the subject, I believe the legal department at Spam and Spam are still looking for you.