Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

MONDAY MUSINGS: The Power of Never Giving Up June 19, 2017







When we are at our lowest as writers I think we often wonder if what we are doing has any meaning. If the words we put on the page will ever be read by anyone but us. If the worlds we create, the characters we craft, will matter to any one outside our own small sphere.



There have been many times in my writing career when I’ve wanted to give up. I’ve looked at a finished manuscript and wondered if those hours, days, months I’ve spent on it were worthless because no one but me would ever know they existed. When I start to feel this way, I go back and look at some of the interviews I’ve done with writers I admire. Remind myself of their struggles and refusal to give up.



One of the biggest stories of perseverance in the publishing world is that of J.K. Rowling. If you know anything about her, you know that she was a single mother living on welfare, writing in a small coffee shop trying to keep her and her child warm while she chased her dream of creating a story about a young boy who discovers he is a wizard. I often wonder how many times in that early period self-doubt slithered into her head. How many times she looked at that blinking cursor and wondered if she was chasing some crazy unrealistic dream.



Well, most of you know how her story turned out. Harry Potter is now one of the most influential series in all of literature. It’s spawned movies, licensed merchandise, a series of theme parks, and now even a studio tour in London.



And that brings me to my point. I recently was lucky enough to go on this tour. I, along with my family, on a soggy, cold June day jumped on a double-decker coach (significantly similar to the Knight Bus, along with a crazy driver) and headed outside of London to the small town of Leavesden. The tour information said the experience would last three and half hours. Three and a half hours? I’ve been on many studio tours in the past and they never lasted more than hour so I was very skeptical. I was wrong. SO WRONG.



Once inside the main building, I was immediately hit by the enormity of the world the directors and producers had built for this series. The walls were covered in life-size posters of all the major characters. Inside the area where the first line began was a complete replica of Harry’s room under the stairs. And on the wall was this sign…








Tears burned the corners of my eyes because it hit me at that moment that NONE of this experience would be possible without the words of J.K. Rowling. Sitting in that cafe she was about to change publishing forever. Her words would introduce the amazing experience of reading to both children and adults. What an incredible legacy to give the world.



So the next time you want to give up, throw in the towel, stop chasing your own dream, think about that single mother sitting in small cafe and what would have happened if she’d stopped creating. I, for one, believe our world would be a much sadder place without the gift she gave us in Harry Potter.



You never know, the book you’re writing now could be the next story that changes publishing. Keep working. Keep dreaming. The possibility of creating a new story that influences children’s literature could only be a chapter away!



Here are a few more amazing pictures from the tour. And if you are ever in London, I HIGHLY encourage you to put a trip to Leavesden on your schedule!





(The Cupboard Underneath The Stairs)




(Dumbledore and Snape in the Great Hall)




(The Entrance to Dumbledore’s Office)




(The Invitations to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry)




(Entrance to The Chamber of Secrets)





(Full scale model of Hogwarts)


FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Kari Sutherland of Bradford Literary Agency June 2, 2017

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 6:01 am
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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.


Today, I’m proud to share Kari Sutherland’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.




Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Kari: It’s not the be-all-and-end-all, but it definitely helps set the tone and grab my attention. I always read beyond it, but I’ll be more excited about the submission if the first paragraph or two convey a sense of character, a strong voice, or something about the plot/world that piques my interest. There are times when a writer goes to extremes to make the first sentence sensational (my ex is pointing a gun at me! The house slid into the ocean! Aliens have landed!) when it doesn’t entirely fit the story. I’d rather have the first few lines infused with the persona of a character I want to spend the next 60K words reading about than an explosive beginning for drama’s sake.




Amy: A lot of books open with common things like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, starting at a new school, etc. What are some openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Kari: All of the above! There are exceptions to every rule, so I wouldn’t say a book that opens with one of those is not going to be one I ultimately enjoy, but beginning with a dream or waking from one, a mundane conversation or part of a routine (picking out clothes, going for a run, walking to class), or throwing your protagonist into a new school or having him/her watch a new student arrive are all very prosaic routes. In dystopian novels, a selection/choosing ceremony has become the equivalent of starting at a new school for the contemporary genre. It may not stop me from reading on, but the voice will have to work harder to impress me. Another common trope used in the first few pages is the main character looking in a mirror to give us a physical description. I prefer more organic ways of working in those descriptors.

I have been gripped by a dream opening because of stellar, compelling writing and I’ve been bored by more extraordinary and unusual beginnings because the characters, emotions, or descriptions fall flat.




Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?


Kari: Beyond the voice, which is first and foremost for me, and an intriguing concept, I look for the ability of a writer to create a poignant or electrifying moment, to make me feel something, even within the first chapter, whether it’s amusement, empathy, or irritation-by-proxy. The first chapter should have a good balance of dialogue and internalization/description since we often learn more about characters when they interact with others and I should have a sense of the world/character’s life without knowing everything. It’s like a first date—you want to hook me (the reader) with your charm and personality and some fascinating anecdotes, but hold back the more detailed knowledge for later, once we’ve spent more time together. The mystery alone can be tantalizing.




Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Kari: Writers sometimes think they need to lay out the whole world up front. In sci-fi/fantasy or dystopian, this can be with in-depth explanations of how things came to be this way, how things work in this society, etc. In contemporary this can manifest with delving into too much backstory of a relationship anytime a new character enters the scene or an over-reliance on physical descriptions rather than showing us personality traits and temperament. Some details should be there to help readers get a feel for the setting, but we don’t need the complete history at the start. Emotionally laden interactions will be much more compelling than a sociology lesson.




Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Kari: Voice. I want to know the person who will be leading me on this journey. Someone snarky and gruff? Someone witty and observant? Someone scarred by the past, but hopeful of the future? Someone unapologetically sunny? Someone fiercely loyal and passionate?

The query can show me whether a concept is unique, but if the voice can’t draw me in, an original idea isn’t going to be enough.




Kari Sutherland joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2017 after a decade of experience in publishing from the editorial side. While at HarperCollins Children’s Books, she worked with bestselling and critically acclaimed authors on projects such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. With her editorial insight and experience with the entire publishing process, Kari is passionate about helping to polish each manuscript and equip her clients for success.


For full submission guidelines, please see the Bradford Literary Agency website.


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