Carol Muskoron
 
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So I've written a novel - it's a beauty, and I'm looking for a literary agent.

I sit down to write a query letter and am tempted to start it thus:

'See this great novel? It will make you lots of money. I am a good person. 
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'

But I know this won't cut it. And I am prepared for this because I knew I was going to have to write this letter one day. Occasionally I'd take breaks from my prose and make drafts of the letter I would one day write to a literary agent. And so I am ready with my pithy description of the novel and with my pithy description of myself. But what I am not ready for is the soul searching that's necessary to complete the letter. Let me explain...

Once I'd written about me, and the novel, and had politely said that I was looking forward to hearing from the agent, I realised that something was missing. There was something I wasn't saying. And then I realised what it was. I hadn't explained why I had written this novel, or what had led me to write it in the first place. 

At this point, I found myself wishing that an angel who would reach down from the sky and pick me up and say, 'I know why you, little Carol Muskoron, have spent years writing beautiful novels and powerful short stories. There there. Don't say a word. I understand and I will make commercial sense of it all for you. Don't you worry!' 

Isn't it enough to write a novel without having to explain why you've dedicated yourself to a task through which you might not earn a bean? You might as well write:

'Dear literary agent, 
I am mad, quite mad. Attached is evidence of my madness, plus a synopsis of my madness.
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'

Go deeper, Carol, I told myself. I sat there and pondered: where had my journey begun? And I realised that it began with my love of the novels of John Irving and Angela Carter and Richard Brautigan and Isabel Allende - written by people with nothing in common except their eccentricity, their wild characters and their love of the fabulous. And at this point I realised that in my letter to the agent I had lied. I had written that my novel was a straightforward romcom  - it isn't a straightforward romcom - it is an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot. But guess what? I think the world is ready for  an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot.

It's a shame literary agents aren't angels - it seems that they're business people who can spot a great story. But I reckon with each query letter you write, your understanding of your 'business' and of what you have to sell grows. 

Right, enough navel gazing! I've got a new short story to publish tonight and some serious search engine optimisation to do on nakednovelist.com.

Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'

 
 
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I'm not a violent person but if Anastasia Steele had walked into the room at the moment when I'd just finished Fifty Shades of Grey I'd have tied her up and beaten her senseless myself. Yes, Christian Grey I can understand the pleasure of pain. Anastasia is such an annoying, simpering, dull creature that she deserves to be slapped.

Help me womankind, why are you loving this trash?

I know, it's because of the recession, isn't it. You're overdrawn every month and you've got no money to go out, so you get on the tube every morning and read a little something to get you going. Then after a hard day's work, you return to your partner, strip him/her naked, shackle him/her to the banisters and cook dinner while he/she wails for your attention and begs to be tied up in the living room where he/she could at least watchEastEnders.  Only in this way can you regain some of the self respect you lose each day selling your soul to a greedy multinational company which pays you just about enough to sort out the bills, but nowhere near enough for you to buy the Fornarina shoes you lust after this season.

Or is that, just like the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia Steele (oh, lord help us, could the name be more clichéd), you are a virgin who has met a millionaire pervert?

Or, hang on, I 've got it! You love this book because you yearn to be a virgin who has met a millionare pervert - yes! How you wish that before you'd said 'I do' to your husband plumber and sold yourself into a life of washing his soiled overalls, someone like Christian Grey (oh, lord help us again: could his name be more clichéd) had come along and offered you a life of another kind of bondage altogether.

Whatever your reasons, I would like to point out how sad it is that the hero of the first vaguely raunchy novel to rock the world for a while has to be a millionaire.Why couldn't Anastasia have fallen for a nice bloke from the IT department? I also think it's sad that she has to be a virgin - and worse, a boring virgin. And why does there have to have to be a stupid bogus back story about why Christian Grey got into sadomasochism - he couldn't just like a bit of slap and tickle, could he? Oh no, he has his psychological reasons, don't you know, for being a whip connoisseur. Yawn!

I don't think I'm a literary snob. I'll read anything. I can enjoy a cornflakes packet if it's well written, but Fifty Shades of Grey is just badly written. 

Bye for now
Carol

PS There's a sadomasochism scene in my novel Twelve Hours but there isn't a millionaire or a virgin in sight.
PPS Need examples of just how badly written Fifty Shades of Grey is? Check out The 10 worst lines from Fifty Shades of Grey on my professional blog where I can't own up to wanting to tie characters up and hit them. 

 
 
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I was finding chapter four of my latest novel hard to get through today. And the major distraction was a parrot costume which a work colleague had sent me the link to - she was going to a fancy dress party but she didn't opt for this costume. I couldn't for the life of my understand why not. I didn't have a fancy dress party to go to, but I'd never seen such a perfect thing. An all-in-one wonder. Step into it and you were 100 per cent parrot. I did question how you'd hold a drink with those wings, but I told myself that was a technicality. I wanted that costume!

I managed to ignore the craving for most of the week and then today, when I was supposed to be writing,I found myself thinking 'parrot costume' and clicking on the link again - but now the page said 'Hurry! Only 1 left in stock!'. Oh no! I tweeted about my craving, wondering if anyone out there would understand, and a friend said, 'Buy it now!' but I wasn't sure. Gorgeous though the thing looked, I wondered if it would flatter me. Would I look attractive in it?

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I showed the link to my husband when he came in - I explained how taken I was with it, and asked if he thought I should buy it. After all, what would I wear it to? 'Oh, we've missed National Parrot Day! What a shame!' he said, which I didn't find very helpful.

And then I had an idea: if I finished Chapter Four I would reward myself by buying the parrot costume. I worked so hard - it was honestly like wading through treacle - and now that I've finally finished the chapter I'm shattered. Too shattered to make such a big fashion decision. But I treated myself to Photoshopping my head into the costume to see just how it would look on me. What do you think? I think I look kind of nice in it.
Bye for now
Carol

PS My novel, Twelve Hours was written without the inspiration of parrots, but I don't think it suffered. Buy Twelve Hours here and decide for yourself!


WRITING TIP: If you're really suffering from writer's block and are having trouble finishing a piece of writing, dangle a carrot, any carrot, in front of yourself and tell yourself that the said vegetable will be yours once your writing mission is complete. In my case the carrot was a 'parrot' but you only you can decide which carrots which work best for you!

 
 
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I love giving readings from my novels. I learn a little bit more about my fiction every time I do one. If you can come out of your ivory tower and meet the public now and then, I reckon it's a very, very good idea.  Here are my tips for how to make a success of doing a public reading from your novel...

1) Scan your novel for a piece of writing that stands alone - this is tricky, but it's very important. However short your reading is, your audience needs to feel that they have heard something with a beginning, a middle and an end.


2) Have some cards with your novel's info on it to give out - people came up to me after my reading and it was brilliant to hand out a card rather than relying on their vague memory to recall who I am and what my book was called when they next buy something on Kindle. And writing the wording for your business focusses you - you have to think: what is the salient info about my novel; what might make people buy it? I didn't know 'Twelve Hours' was a heartbreaking black comedy until I had these printed!

3) Write an intro to the piece and a sign off paragraph. Even a short intro will help readers engage with you. As a sign off I always thank people for listening and tell them where they can get my book.

4) Print out the piece you've chosen, read it aloud and time yourself. You don't want to read for longer than 10 mins. Mark paragraphs and sentences that you could lose, if necessary. I always have some marked out and if I think things are dragging I do the shorter version.

5) Edit your piece. There are two reasons for doing this: Firstly, it might need editing to make it a successful standalone piece of writing - tinker to make sure that everything your audience needs to know is there for them. Secondly, it's wonderful to take the opportunity to focus on some writing that was signed, sealed and published. You will almost definitely find ways of improving it and you can add the edit to an ebook instantly. Oh the joy of Kindle publishing!

Bye for now
Carol

PS If you want to read my heartbreaking black comedy Twelve Hours, you can buy it here.

 
 
I'm editing my novel at the moment and I'd just started looking at chapter five today and couldn't work out what was wrong with it. It read like novels do and everything that I had wanted to happen in chapter five had happened yet there was something wrong. But I couldn't put my finger on how to make it right, or even see what, exactly, the problem was.

Where did it go wrong? I re-read it from the beginning and then I spotted it: Right from the start the characters were 'dancing' for me. I am a good wordsmith and I can make them do what I want them to do, but they were kind of behaving like performing monkeys: jumping through the hoops I'd set up for them. So the chapter could pass as decent prose but in all honestly, I had been flippant with my characters. I hadn't listened to their needs. I hadn't done them justice.

I decided to slow right down and dig deep. How were these guys feeling? And how might that manifest itself? What had each of them been doing ten minutes earlier in the plot? And what if I took the narrative back ten minutes to just before the two characters met up? I tried it, and it let them breathe a little more easily, plus it helped me feel my way into their lives - properly - and they appreciated it. They stopped behaving like my puppets and came to life. Oh, the relief!

I hereby apologise to my characters: Dear Steven and Annie - I'm sorry for not really listening to you. I was a badly behaved writer - you are great characters and I will pay more attention to you in future.

WRITING TIP: Characters not ringing true? Take it back a few minutes and see how your characters react.