New words to live by: “Awesomocity”

Time, once again, for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by combing an adjective and a noun. Without further waiting, Awesomocity.

Awesome, adj. 1. Inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear. 2. Exhibiting or marked by awe.

Velocity, n. 1. Swiftness, speed, rapidity of motion. 2. Mechanics. The rate of change of position of a body in a specified direction.

Awesomocity, n. The speed and direction with which your awesomeness becomes known to others.

His awesomocity was so fast and complete, it was almost impossible to tell where it began and where it ended. It seemed to be instantaneous: everywhere and all at once.

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Haiku to Thursday: “Prefer”

Some prefer answers. /

Others prefer the questions. /

Flowers prefer bees.


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Filed under 2017, Haiku to You Thursday, photo by David E. Booker, poetry by author

Writing tip Wednesday: “New Agency to Consider”

New Agency to consider

kt literary

From their website: Books aren’t just what we do, they’re who we are. We become the sum total of our reading experiences – the romance, the adventures, the coming-of-age, the fantasy, the dare-to-believe. At kt literary, we want to be more.

It's not too late to start your novel.

It’s not too late to start your novel.

Madeleine L’Engle once said, “You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.” Write for children. Write for adults. Write for yourself. And then, when you’re ready to find a literary agent to take your work to the next level, think of us.

kt literary is a full-service literary agency operating out of Highlands Ranch, in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, where every major publishing house is merely an email or phone call away. We believe in the power of new technology to connect writers to readers, and authors to editors. We bring over a decade of experience in the New York publishing scene, an extensive list of contacts, and a lifetime love of reading to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

And did we mention our boundless optimism?


Agents and what they are looking for:
We’re thrilled to be actively seeking new clients with great writing, unique stories, and complex characters, for middle grade, young adult, and adult.

Kate is looking only at young adult and middle grade fiction and selective nonfiction.

Sara seeks authors in middle grade, young adult, and adult romance, erotica, science fiction, and fantasy.

Renee is looking for young adult and middle grade fiction only.

Hannah is interested in speculative fiction in young adult, middle grade, and adult.

To query us, please select one of the agents at kt literary at a time. If we pass, you can feel free to submit to another. Please email your query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript in the body of the email to either Kate at, Sara at, Renee at, or Hannah at

The subject line of your email should include the word “Query” along with the title of your manuscript. Queries should not contain attachments. Attachments will not be read, and queries containing attachments WILL be deleted unread. We aim to reply to all queries within two weeks of receipt. For examples of query letters, please feel free to browse the About My Query archives on this site.

In addition, if you’re an author who is sending a new query, but who previously submitted a novel to us for which we requested chapters but ultimately declined, please do say so in your query letter.

If we like your query, we’ll ask for the first five chapters and a complete synopsis. For our purposes, the synopsis should include the full plot of the book including the conclusion. Don’t tease us. Thanks!

We are not accepting snail mail queries at this time. If you have an aversion to email, perhaps we’re not the best agency for you. We also do not accept pitches on social media.


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Sometimes, it's too hard to hang in there.

Sometimes, it’s too hard to hang in there.

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Ted Chiang’s Soulful Science Fiction – The New Yorker

With just fourteen short stories and a novella, the author behind the recent film “Arrival” has gained a rapturous following within the genre and beyond.

Source: Ted Chiang’s Soulful Science Fiction – The New Yorker

by Joshua Rothman

In the early nineteen-nineties, a few occurrences sparked something in Ted Chiang’s mind. He attended a one-man show in Seattle, where he lives, about a woman’s death from cancer. A little later, a friend had a baby and told Chiang about recognizing her son from his movements in the womb. Chiang thought back to certain physical principles he had learned about in high school, in Port Jefferson, New York, having to do with the nature of time. The idea for a story emerged, about accepting the arrival of the inevitable. A linguist, Chiang thought, might learn such acceptance by deciphering the language of an alien race with a different conception of time. For five years, when he wasn’t working as a technical writer in the software industry, Chiang read books about linguistics. In 1998, he published “Story of Your Life,” in a science-fiction anthology series called Starlight. It was around sixty pages long and won three major science-fiction prizes: the Nebula, the Theodore Sturgeon, and the Seiun, which is bestowed by the Federation of Science Fiction Fan Groups of Japan. Last year, “Arrival” was released, an adaptation of “Story of Your Life,” in which Amy Adams plays a linguist who learns, decades in advance, that her daughter will die, as a young woman, of a terminal illness, but goes ahead with the pregnancy anyway.

Chiang is now forty-nine, with streaks of gray in his ponytail. He started writing science fiction in high school. Since then, he has published fourteen short stories and a novella. By this means, he has become one of the most influential science-fiction writers of his generation. He has won twenty-seven major sci-fi awards; he might have won a twenty-eighth if, a few years ago, he hadn’t declined a nomination because he felt that the nominated story, “Liking What You See: A Documentary,” was unfinished. (It imagines using neuroscience to eliminate “lookism,” or the preference for beautiful faces.) Many of Chiang’s stories take place in the past, not the future. His first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” which appeared in 1990 and won a Nebula Award, follows Hillalum, a Babylonian stonecutter tasked with climbing to the top of the world and carving a doorway into its granite ceiling. It has the structure of a parable and an uncanny and uncompromising material concreteness. At the top of the tower, Hillalum finds that the roof of the world is cold and smooth to the touch. The stonecutters are eager to find out what lies on the other side of the sky, but they are also afraid, and, in a prayer service, Chiang writes, “they gave thanks that they were permitted to see so much, and begged forgiveness for their desire to see more.” Chiang goes to great lengths to show how ancient stonecutting techniques might actually be used to breach the floor of Heaven. He writes the science fiction that would have existed in an earlier era, had science existed then.

Chiang’s stories conjure a celestial feeling of atemporality. “Hell Is the Absence of God” is set in a version of the present in which Old Testament religion is tangible, rather than imaginary: Hell is visible through cracks in the ground, angels appear amid lightning storms, and the souls of the good are plainly visible as they ascend to Heaven. Neil, the protagonist, had a wife who was killed during an angelic visitation—a curtain of flame surrounding the angel Nathanael shattered a café window, showering her with glass. (Other, luckier bystanders were cured of cancer or inspired by God’s love.) Attending a support group for people who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances, he finds that, although they are all angry at God, some still yearn to love him so that they can join their dead spouses and children in Heaven. To write this retelling of the Book of Job, in which one might predict an angel’s movements using a kind of meteorology, Chiang immersed himself in the literature of angels and the problem of innocent suffering; he read C. S. Lewis and the evangelical author Joni Eareckson Tada. Since the story was published, in 2001, readers have argued about the meaning of Chiang’s vision of a world without faith, in which the certain and proven existence of God is troubling, rather than reassuring.

Earlier this winter, I began talking with Chiang about his work, first through Skype, then over the phone and via e-mail. He still works as a technical writer—he creates reference materials for programmers—and lives in Bellevue, near Seattle. “I’m curious about what you might call discredited world views,” he told me, during a phone conversation. “It can be tempting to dismiss people from the past—to say, ‘Weren’t they foolish for thinking things worked that way?’ But they weren’t dummies. They came up with theories as to how the universe worked based on the observations available to them at the time. They thought about the implications of things in the ways that we do now. Sometimes I think, What if further observation had confirmed their initial theories instead of disproving them? What if the universe had really worked that way?”

Chiang has been described as a writer of “humanist” sci-fi; many readers feel that his stories are unusually moving and wonder, given their matter-of-fact tone, where their emotional power comes from. His story “The Great Silence” was included in last year’s edition of “The Best American Short Stories,” and Junot Díaz, who edited that volume, has said that Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others” is “as perfect a collection of stories as I’ve ever read.” Chiang himself seems to find this kind of praise bewildering. When, after about a month of long-distance conversation—he is a slow, careful speaker, and so I had asked to interview him again and again—we met for lunch at a ramen restaurant in Bellevue, I asked Chiang why he thought his stories were beloved. He threw up his hands and laughed with genuine incredulity. He had “no idea” how to account for his own success, he said. He seems almost to regard his stories as research projects pursued for their own sake. When I asked him to speculate—surely all writers have some sense of why they are valued?—he blushed and declined.

Chiang was born on Long Island in 1967. He went to Brown and majored in computer science. In 1989, he attended the Clarion Workshop, a kind of Bread Loaf for sci-fi and fantasy writers. Around that time, he moved to Seattle, where he met Marcia Glover, his long-term partner, during a stint at Microsoft (“I was documenting class libraries or A.P.I.s,” he said); she’s an interface designer turned photographer. He admires the writing of Annie Dillard and enjoyed “The Last Samurai,” by Helen DeWitt.

Beyond this narrow Wikipedian territory, Chiang is reluctant to venture. Although he is amiable and warm, he is also reticent and does not riff. Over several conversations, I learned, in addition, that he owns four cats, goes to the gym three times a week, and regards a small cylindrical seal made of hematite sometime around 1200 B.C. as one of his most treasured possessions—it was a gift from his sister, a reference to “Tower of Babylon.” He told me that, when he was a child, his family celebrated Christmas but wasn’t religious. When I asked Chiang if he had hobbies, he said no, and then, after a long pause, admitted that he plays video games. He refused to say what he eats for breakfast. Eventually, I sent him an e-mail with twenty-four questions that, I hoped, might elicit more personal details:

Do you have a favorite novel?
There isn’t one that I would want to single out as a favorite. I’m wary of the idea of a favorite anything.

You’ve spent many years living near the water. Do you like the sea?
Not particularly. I don’t actually spend much time on the coast; it’s just chance that I happened to move here.

What was the last work of art that made you cry?
Don’t know.

Do you consider yourself a sensitive person?

What Chiang really wanted to talk about was science fiction. We spoke about free will (“I believe that the universe is deterministic, but that the most meaningful definition of free will is compatible with determinism”), the literary tradition of naturalism (“a fundamentally science-fictional approach of trying to work out the logical consequences of an idea”), time travel (he thinks of “A Christmas Carol” as the first time-travel story), and the metaphorical and political incoherence of Neill Blomkamp’s aliens-under-apartheid movie “District 9” (he believes that “Alien Nation,” in which the aliens are framed as immigrants, is more rigorously thought through). Chiang reframes questions before answering them, making fine philosophical distinctions. He talks more about concepts than he does about people. “I do want there to be a depth of human feeling in my work, but that’s not my primary goal as a writer,” he said, over lunch. “My primary goal has to do with engaging in philosophical questions and thought experiments, trying to work out the consequences of certain ideas.”

Chiang’s novella, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” grew, he said, out of his intellectual skepticism about how artificial intelligence is imagined in science fiction. Often, such computers are super-competent servants born in a lab and preprogrammed by engineers. “But what makes any human being a good, reliable worker?” he asked me. “A hundred thousand hours of good parenting, of unpaid emotional labor. That’s the kind of investment on which the business world places no value; it’s an investment made by people who do it out of love.” “Lifecycle” tells of Ana and Derek, two friends who, almost by accident, become the loving and protective parents of artificially intelligent computer programs. Ana and Derek spend decades raising their virtual children, and, by means of a “slow, difficult, and very fraught process”—playing, teaching, chiding, comforting—succeed in creating artificial beings with fully realized selves. Having done so, they are loath to sell their children, or copies of them, to the Silicon Valley startups that are eager to monetize them. They face, instead, the unexpected challenges of virtual parenthood: What do you do when the operating system on which your child runs becomes obsolete? How can you understand the needs and wants of a child so different from yourself?

In an e-mail, I asked Chiang to tell me about his own parents. (He has no children.) Did they inspire the ones in his novella? “I’m not going to try to describe their personalities,” he wrote, “but here are some basic facts”:

Both of my parents were born in mainland China. Their families fled to Taiwan during the Communist Revolution. They went to college in Taiwan and came to the U.S. for their graduate studies; they met here. They’re divorced. My father still works as a professor in the engineering department at SUNY Stony Brook. My mother is retired, but used to be a librarian. I didn’t have them in mind when writing “Lifecycle.”

Perhaps there’s something contrarian in Chiang’s refusal to acknowledge, or even describe, the role that his life plays in the construction of his fiction. Alternatively, he may be being accurate. Contemplating his e-mail, I found myself thinking, in a Chiangian way, about the nature of ethics. According to one theory, a system of ethics flows from the bottom up, emerging from the network of agreements we make in everyday life. According to another, it flows from the top down, and consists of absolute moral truths that are discoverable through rigorous analysis. The feelings in Chiang’s stories are discovered from the top down. “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” isn’t a story about Chiang’s parents disguised as a thought experiment. It’s a thought experiment so thorough that it tells us something about the feeling of parenthood. That kind of thoroughness is unusual. It is, in itself, a labor of love.

“I don’t get that many ideas for stories,” Chiang said, around a decade ago, in an interview with the sci-fi magazine Interzone. “If I had more ideas, I would write them, but unfortunately they only come at long intervals. I’m probably best described as an occasional writer.” That is still more or less true. Chiang continues to make ends meet through technical writing; it’s unclear whether the success of “Arrival” could change that, or even whether he would desire such a change. A script based on another of his stories, “Understand,” is also in development. “I don’t want to try to force myself to write novels in order to make a living,” Chiang wrote, in an e-mail. “I’m perfectly happy writing short stories at my own pace.”

In the course of our conversations, he and I discussed various theories about his writing—about what, in general, his project might be. At lunch, he proffered one theory—that his stories were an attempt to resist “the identification of materialism with nihilism.” Over the phone, I suggested another, perhaps related theory—that Chiang’s stories are about the costs and uses of knowledge. I pointed out that some of his stories are about the pain of knowing too much, while others are about the long path to knowing, which permits of no shortcuts. In “Story of Your Life,” Chiang’s linguist, Louise, finds that knowing your life story in advance doesn’t make you want to change it; if anything, it makes you more determined to live it out in full. Knowledge alone is flat and lifeless; it becomes meaningful through the accumulation of experience over time.

Chiang, in his precise and affable way, questioned my idea that his stories were “about” knowledge. “Is that really a useful way to characterize my stories, as opposed to other people’s stories?” he asked. He laughed—and then suggested a different subject that, he’d noticed, was a “recurring concern” in his work. “There’s a book by Umberto Eco called ‘The Search for the Perfect Language,’ ” he said. “It’s a history of the idea that there could be a language which is perfectly unambiguous and can perfectly describe everything. At one point, it was believed that this was the language spoken by angels in Heaven, or the language spoken by Adam in Eden. Later on, there were attempts by philosophers to create a perfect language.” There’s no such thing, Chiang said, but the idea appealed to him in an abstract way. In “Understand,” he pointed out, the protagonist learns to reprogram his own mind. He knits together the vocabularies of science and art, memory and prediction, literature and math, physics and emotion. “He’s searching for the perfect language, a cognitive language in which he can think,” Chiang said. “A language that will let him think the kinds of thoughts he wants.”

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Publishers are hiring ‘sensitivity readers’ to flag potentially offensive content – Chicago Tribune

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

Source: Publishers are hiring ‘sensitivity readers’ to flag potentially offensive content – Chicago Tribune

by Everdeen Mason

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

“The industry recognizes this is a real concern,” said Cheryl Klein, a children’s and young adult book editor and author of “The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.” Klein, who works at the publisher Lee & Low, said that she has seen the casual use of specialized readers for many years but that the process has become more standardized and more of a priority, especially in books for young readers.

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story “History of Magic in North America.” Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise her fantasy novel “The Continent” after an online uproar over its portrayal of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author Veronica Roth – of “Divergent” fame – came under fire for her new novel, “Carve the Mark.” In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.

This potential for offense has some writers scared. Young-adult author Susan Dennard recently hired a fan to review her portrayal of a transgender character in her “Truthwitch” series.

“I was nervous to write a character like this to begin with, because what if I get it wrong? I could do some major damage,” Dennard said. But, she added, she felt the voice of the character was an important one that wasn’t often portrayed, so she hired a fan, who is a transgender man, just to be sure she did it right.

For authors looking for sensitivity readers beyond their fan base there is the Writing in the Margins database, a resource of about 125 readers created by Justina Ireland, author of the YA books “Vengeance Bound” and “Promise of Shadows.” Ireland started the directory last year after hearing other authors at a writing retreat discuss the difficulties in finding people of different backgrounds to read a manuscript and give feedback about such, well, sensitive matters.

One reader for hire in Ireland’s database is Dhonielle Clayton, a librarian and writer based in New York. Clayton reviews two manuscripts per month, going line by line to look at diction, dialogue and plot. Clayton says she analyzes the authenticity of the characters and scenes, then points writers to where they can do more research to improve their work.

Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. “Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.

Ireland underscores the value of sensitivity readers – both for authors and for readers. (She was a strong voice behind the push to get Keira Drake to make changes to the advance readers’ edition of “The Continent.”)

“Even if authors mean well, even if the intention is good, it doesn’t change the impact,” Ireland said. “It’s nice to be that line of defense before it gets to readers, especially since the bulk of people who come to me write for children.” Fees for a sensitivity readers generally start at $250 per manuscript.

Children’s book author Kate Messner has used sensitivity readers for many of her books, some of which deal with poverty, abuse and race.

“I wouldn’t dream of sending those books out into the world without getting help to make sure I’m representing those issues in a way that’s realistic and sensitive,” she said. Messner, whose works include “The Seventh Wish” and “All the Answers,” asks a reader for feedback on whether the experience she’s written reads realistically or whether anything stands out as problematic.
Her upcoming book, tentatively called “Breakout,” focuses on three girls coping with a prison escape in their small town. Messner has enlisted multiple sensitivity readers to help her work out the class and race issues affecting the town and her characters. A reader has called out when her language doesn’t ring true, and has questioned when her character does something that seems inauthentic and provides her perspective on why that is. Messner said it’s been encouraging to hear when she’s gotten something correct, but also she’s had to make adjustments.

Lee & Low Books has a companywide policy to use sensitivity readers. Stacy Whitman, publisher and editorial director of Lee & Low’s middle-grade imprint Tu Books, said she will even request a sensitivity reader before she chooses to acquire a book to publish.

“It’s important for authors to consider expert reader feedback and figure out how to solve the problems they point out,” Whitman said. “Everyone’s goal is a better book, and better representation contributes to that.”

Still, some sensitivity readers feel they are in part contributing to the problem. Clayton said she’s unsettled by the idea that she’s being paid for her expertise, but also is helping white authors write black characters for books from which they reap profit and praise.

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Concerns about cultural appropriation have been around for years – think of William Styron writing as the slave Nat Turner in 1967. (“That’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it?” Lionel Shriver said in a controversial speech last year. “Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.”)

But sensitivity readers introduce a new twist in the debate. On the one hand they help a writer create the experience of a marginalized group more authentically. On the other, they legitimize the mimicking of marginalized voices by non-marginalized writers.

Why not just publish more books by black people, Latinos, Native Americans and others? some ask.

Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, “it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,” Clayton says.
“So until publishing is equitable and people are still writing cross-culturally,” Clayton points out, “sensitivity reading is going to be another layer of what’s necessary in order to make sure that representation is good.”

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Free Craft Books for Fiction Writers

Two winners will each receive all four books shown at left (desktop) or below (mobile).Enter to Win! Here’s how:Answer the silly question in #1 below (to prove you’re not a robot); In the form that appears, fill out your first name and email address; When a new window pops up, share on social media. For every person you share this contest with, you’ll get 3 entries added to your total number of entries—in other words, the more often you share the link to this contest, the greater your chances of winning! Finally, keep an eye on your inbox for a confirmation email – click on the link inside to confirm your entry.

Source: Free Craft Books for Fiction Writers

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