“We’re All Americans, Aren’t We?”


Anyone who has been able to travel outside of the U.S. has experienced the phenomenon of globalization — the international interdependence of cultural and economic activities. It is difficult to avoid the lingering influence of American popular culture. Twenty-five years ago I sat in a bar-room with German graduate students, in Germany, and was disappointed to hear American rock music blaring. Foolishly, I had expected some oompah music, or perhaps some classical. In my travels now, the more obvious evidence of “Americanization” is in the spread of U.S. based restaurants and cafes – I’ve sat in Starbucks in Vienna and Glasgow, seen McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken everywhere. And the movie posters!! Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere. Here’s how the ads look in Vienna:

Vienna - feb 2015 - 3



And, here’s a street shot in Prague with a Hooters ad (yes, a Hooters ad) and a Starbucks. After that, a Vienna street scene:




I attended a writer group last week in Glasgow that turned out to have a very international flavor. The leader was Canadian. Other attendees had roots in Guyana, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I was the lone American. When I said where I was from, the gentleman from Africa commented, “Well, we’re all Americans really, aren’t we?” I said no and watched the fellow from Ireland get pretty upset. He clearly did not want to be called an American.

After we’d discussed the writing that had been submitted in advance, I joined several of the group members for a pint at a nearby pub. The Irish fellow wanted to know, “What is next for America?” I wasn’t sure what he was asking about and said so. “Well, politically, you know. I mean so much of what happens here depends on what happens there – certainly economically.” I don’t know if I spoke well on behalf of the U.S., but I tried. I spoke of my concerns of the continuing healthcare issues – that even though we have healthcare for all (supposedly) now, it seems it will be a long, bumpy ride before we really do. I spoke of my ongoing concerns regarding the disrespect and polarization in our country – politically, racially, economically – you name it, we seem to find a way to “take sides.” I spoke of my concerns that the economy continued to be on quicksand, rather than solid footing – that I worry constantly for one of my children who has had a hard time finding steady work. I said that I wished I could explain how very large America is – how different individual states are – that I was only speaking as someone with a white, middle-class, mostly rural and then suburban, experience. I was speaking from a position of privilege and education – not the spot every single American occupies. Not the spot every single person in my extended family occupies, across many states. We are a large and diverse nation — I felt the responsibility of speaking on behalf of my country, with the reality that I could only speak from my experience and views.

So when my new friend from Guyana said, “We’re all Americans, aren’t we?” I was able to understand the statement after some thought. American television, fast food, movies and music are prevalent in other countries. The “American perspective” or “American experience” – whatever that really means – is shared abroad and experienced abroad. For some, these snippets of the U.S., will be all they know. And for Americans who don’t get to travel abroad, they may not realize why – for many foreigners – there is a subtext, a rankling unease, when they meet an American. “We’re all Americans, aren’t we?”

No. No, truly we’re not.

But, we are all people. We all get hungry and need to eat. We all get tired and need to sleep. We all – as global citizens – have an obligation to do what we can to enhance and not hurt our corner of the globe. At that writing group, I thought the best I could do was try to speak well of my country, while sharing my concerns. And so, I tried.

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Choosing Travel – No regrets

While living in Glasgow during my husband’s sabbatical, we’re trying to do some traveling but we have some considerations: 1) time — we can’t be away from Glasgow too much as he is working and 2) money. Time and money. Big considerations at most points in our lives, eh? But, we won’t be this close to the continent of Europe (obviously) once we return to the U.S., so before we left we did a lot of talking, dreaming, planning, saving and researching. We agreed to a few “longer” trips, 5-7 days and several long weekend trips, mostly in the U.K. — after all, we don’t want to miss seeing God’s country when we’re living there! But — traveling – even from the other side of the pond – is not cheap. We watch our British pounds, our Czech Korona, our Euros — whatever money we’re dealing with, we try to spend as little of it as we can so we’ll be able to take another trip when we want.

We are on our first longer trip away from Glasgow. For this trip, much of the planning and purchasing was done before we ever left the States. My husband is my travel agent and I always trust him, and appreciate the work he gives it. We flew on Easyjet from Edinburgh – which involved an early (around 4 a.m.) bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh airport. Easyjet is a low cost airline over here — it’s especially low cost if you’re willing to fly with a minuscule (by American standards) carry-on and no checked luggage — which we are doing. The size of the carry-on also limits shopping while away – there’s simply no way to bring back anything substantial without incurring a checked baggage charge of around $40 or more.

We arrived in Prague on Sunday. At the airport, my husband located an ATM and we got a supply of Czech Korona. Then, we found the bus from the airport to the main train station. (It’s a rare, rare event for us to use a taxi in a foreign country. We rely on public transportation which is much lower cost and not as challenging to figure out as you might guess. If you’re as directionally challenged and map-phobic as I am though, I highly recommend traveling with someone who is not either of those things.) From there we walked to our hotel, which allowed us to check in early. Had a great (and cheap!) lunch at a nearby restaurant and spent the rest of the day on our feet, exploring the beautiful city. My husband had been to Prague before, I had not. I’d read up, watched the appropriate Rick Steves videos, talked to well-travelled friends and I knew that tops on my to see and do list were the Jewish Quarter and Terezin. First though, that get acquainted with Prague walk on the first day there. I love being in a new place – love that jolt of recognition that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Like when you can’t read a sign:



Sometimes there are signs of events that you’re aware of from the news. For example, many years ago while I was in Paris, John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, died in a plane crash. Somewhere back in Milwaukee in print format I have a picture from a street ad for a paper in Paris the next day — a giant photo of John and Carolyn with Ooo La La and something else on it. Well, Prague offered its own moment of recent news in a picture for us. On November 17, 2014, Prague celebrated twenty-five years since the Velvet Revolution. If you were of a certain age in 1989, you can not forget the pictures and news streaming out of what we then called Czechoslovakia – what we thought of in the U.S. as a Soviet satellite state. In particular, the photos of students filling Wenceslas Square would become unforgettable. Remember?



Six weeks after the revolution began, Vaclav Havel, a writer, philosopher and dissident, became the first democratic president of the Czech Republic since 1948. He died on December 18, 2011 in Prague. Apparently, the anniversary of his death is marked by hanging a banner with his photo on the National Museum at one end of Wenceslas Square. When we arrived, the banner was still up.


On more than one occasion I’ve felt more reverence for history in Europe than back home, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, on the idea of keeping costs down, we enjoy our walking expeditions in new places. And, the internet has made exploring for deals easier than ever. Today as I write this post I’m sitting in a studio apartment in Vienna – my husband is sitting across from me doing some work on his laptop. He found the apartment on booking.com and it is a great value and location for what we want to do here. Today we walked to an information center and purchased a Vienna Card, which gives us discounts at some museums, restaurants and cultural events — enough of which we’d like to go to to make the cost of the card well worth it. In the end, we will save significant Euros. The apartment, with its small kitchen, means we can have our breakfast and lunches here, with supplies we buy from a nearby grocery store.

Because we’ve been careful here, we will be able to travel to Italy next month and Croatia and France in June. That will leave us a lot of time in April and May to explore more of Scotland. And, we should not be suffering from that terrible affliction of credit card debt. We think, we hope, we believe. If we’re wrong, we’ll adjust our future plans.

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain appears on several websites – and I love the quote, though mentalfloss.com says he didn’t say it. The “quote” – from someone – which inspires me is:  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

I want to see as much of the big wide world as I can before the inevitable grim reaper comes calling for me (and, before my body can’t tolerate travel – with my arthritis, that may come sooner than it would for others). I want to hear as many languages as I can and speak a few words of each of them. I want to see that people are people everywhere on this earth — no one’s special, no one’s better. We’re all just plain awesome. I want to make people smile wherever I can. Not sure I’ve done that yet in Vienna today — time to get back out there. (Making others smile is free too.)

Hope you’re having a smile-filled day wherever you are.


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Waiting with Patience & Trust

I wish everyone I knew could have the opportunity to live abroad for an extended period of time. As regular readers of Pamwrites know, I’ve been fortunate to have become something I never dreamed I would, a world traveller. And I am endlessly grateful to my hard-working husband and to his employer, Marquette University, who have made these trips possible. But there is a HUGE difference, I assure you, from traveling to a foreign place and living there for an extended period of time.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned from my travels is that a “good” traveler learns both patience and flexibility. (At one time in my life, I was a very happy teacher of seventh and eighth graders. Patience and flexibility are also necessary to teach that age group. :-) ) Adjusting to life in Glasgow has been bumpy at times (see Reasonable Expectations) — we had a snafu with our first flat and have ongoing issues still being resolved at our new flat, but, they are being resolved. Today I will sit and wait for the plumber to come and replace the kitchen tap — and hopefully I will stop feeling like I need to wear a raincoat to wash the dishes. I do wish I didn’t have to wait inside though — the sun is shining and the sky is a bright blue and I’d love to be out there exploring more of this fine city. Back in the United States, for all the things we’ve been coping with here, I would have expected a return of part of our deposit. In fact, I would have demanded it. But, apparently here, that’s not allowed. So, I’ve requested a reduction of the rent as compensation for the inconvenience, and will wait — patiently, I hope — for a response.

What else requires patience? Many, many things. As a spoiled American, I’m used to having questions answered promptly and solutions arrived at quickly too. It can be a day or two (or never) before I hear back from anyone at the leasing agency. Customer service doesn’t seem to be a priority there. When I’m out and about, wifi works sometimes, sometimes not at various coffee shops — I’m used to it working at all my favorite haunts back in Wauwatosa. At the grocery stores, it takes time to learn where to find things that look familiar, where to find things we want to try, how to handle the money. (I am terribly slow at learning the value of the coins. It’s embarrassing, but I’m getting better.) It takes patience to learn the different costs of things – the Council Tax is what???

This morning, in a Julia Cameron moment of synchronicity, I woke up thinking about a line in a story I was revising yesterday. A WWII veteran is home, recovering from a leg injury. He’s frustrated by his inability to do much of anything and his mother urges him to have patience, but he’s annoyed at how she says it — at how her Polish accent (which he never thought about before the war) mangles it into “pah-shunz.” I have no idea why that popped into my head on awakening, but then, not long after, when I sat down with my bible and my lightbox on, my reading this morning was from Psalm 40, vs 1. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” RSV  Don’t worry – I’m not going to preach on Psalm 40. It’s just a line I will be pondering today — and reflecting on with gratitude.

Relationships of any kind require patience. If you’ve lived successfully with anyone else for an extended period of time, you know exactly what I mean. I’m a slob by nature. My husband has had to learn patience to deal with that. I’m okay with clutter — in fact, I think I need a certain amount of it. If things are too perfect and too in place, I feel like a little girl at my Grandma Parker’s house and I’d better not touch anything. Now at Grandma Moulton’s house, things were a little looser and a lot more comfortable for me! My creative brain reacts negatively to excessive order. But, if there’s a little pile of paper here and a little stack of books there and maybe a map of the city out on the table along with a calendar and a cup of tea and a wallet and an open bible, well, that’s a sign of things happening and I’m on my way. In fact, my work space this morning looks like this — and yes, that is laundry hanging near a space heater on the other side of the couch —


That’s how I roll. :-)

Building new relationships also requires patience. It was easier in some ways to make friends when I was in Germany because I had two people magnets with me — a six month old and a three year old. There’s nothing quite like little ones to attract others. But here I am alone. My husband goes to work at the university and it’s challenging meeting others. I’ve been to a knitting group once – and I liked it very, very much, but I had to miss it this week (waiting for a delivery that has yet to arrive) and will miss it next week when we’re away. I have met an American professor and we had plans yesterday, that I had to miss, while waiting for that same delivery that has yet to arrive. Did I mention I was working on patience?

Patience and trust.

Patience and trust that all will work out — somehow — for the good. That when you happen through George’s Square in Glasgow on a rainy Robert Burns Day, the sun will shine at the right moment and you will see this:


And, you will believe that people do make Glasgow, because it’s true.

And, who can’t smile when they see a good rainbow?

May you be patient with yourself today in whatever ways you need to.

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Update: The shower and stove work

Thanks for the concerns expressed regarding our bumps in the road moving into our new flat. Thankfully, Jill Wales and her Property Management Team, have been wonderful!! Last night two electricians came and got the electric shower working (something out of balance in the box and a touchy switch), the stove (the on switch had been mysteriously hiding behind the refrigerator), repaired one of the two broken space heaters (fuse for one — kaput-ski for the other).

After soup on the stove to go with my planned stove-less meal (smoked mackerel on a green salad) and a hot shower, we are both feeling much better. Still waiting on the washer/dryer, the hot water tap in the tub and the spigot for the kitchen sink (which splashes/sprays everywhere)…but, a shower, a stove and some heat… life is much better.

Be well, friends.


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Reasonable Expectations

After a smooth arrival and settling into a flat that we believed would be ours for the duration of our stay in Glasgow, we were given short notice to vacate. There had been some miscommunication between the letting agent and our very helpful contact from the University of Strathclyde. While he has been constantly apologizing for the state we were put in, the letting agent never has. She has adopted more of a “not my responsibility, not my fault” attitude – she seems to be a blame-shifter. And I am reminding myself that dealing with one person like that does not mean the entire country has that attitude!

After our older son toured college campuses, I commented to a friend how fascinating it was to see what could influence a seventeen year old’s opinions. A woman in the admissions office at Macalester College the day we were there must have been having a bad day. She was not very helpful or friendly. Well, that one interaction was enough to make a certain young man decide that “they weren’t friendly at Macalester.” It quickly descended on his list of preferred colleges.

With maturity, hopefully we learn that people, businesses and institutions deserve more than one chance encounter. So, in the interest of speed and assuming things couldn’t get worse, we opted to work with the same letting agent mentioned above. We found a flat near enough to our first flat that this directionally-challenged writer wouldn’t be starting from scratch again at learning where she was. And, priorities, priorities, it would still be in walking distance from my new favorite coffee shop: McCune Smith, which deserves and will get its own post one day. It would be a little smaller – one bedroom, not two, but our rent would go down 50 pounds a month, instead of going up 150 pounds a month as the landlord of our first flat wanted to do. We expected it to be chillier than our first flat as we only saw one radiator, in the hallway, and four space heaters. We felt – understandably I think – rushed to sign onto something asap and this seemed more than adequate once it was cleaned up more.

We filed paperwork with the letting agent and then had to wait almost a week for whatever reference checks, etc they needed to do. I have no idea if the length of time required is normal here or not – in the U.S., I know my son who has lived multiple times in multiple large cities: Minneapolis, Boston, Washington, DC and now NYC, has never had to wait that long to find out if he has a rental. (And, in this day and age of e-communications it seems odd that so long would be required…)  We were told to vacate the first flat by January 18, and on January 15 we received an email that we were approved and could come in on January 16 to sign the lease and get the keys. As soon as we got the email, we phoned to make the appointment and were told the only slot they had was at 4 p.m. We probably should have been a little nervous then — it meant by the time we actually moved in, we would not be able to contact anyone if there were problems until Monday morning……

I should mention that in the intervening time period before the approval email, I was very ill. Some type of stomach bug hit me hard and wiped me out. I could barely move from bed to the couch to the toilet. By the weekend of the move, I was better and able to take nourishment, but my strength and stamina were nowhere near 100%. We packed and moved our things on a cold, and unusually snowy weekend in Glasgow. I should say that my husband did far, far more of the work than I did!



After packing and moving on Saturday and Sunday, he had to spend an insane amount of time cleaning the filthy new apartment while I rested. We were shocked at the state of things as when we signed the papers on Friday it seemed like the letting agency was attesting to the fact that things were clean and in working order. It was Sunday night before we tried to get a can of soup on to enjoy.

And, the grease-caked stove didn’t work. (He had scrubbed and tried, but the burners were gross.)

We hunted for a switch to flip to turn it on.

Okay, forget the stove, but now we better see what else around here works…..

The fridge and freezer? Yes. (Ignoring the rust flaking off the bottom of the freezer onto the kitchen floor and the fact that the produce drawers had no lid….)

We knew we had hot and cold running water in both the kitchen and bathroom sinks. (The kitchen sink faucet sprayed everywhere, but we got water.) A check of the shower in the bathroom was not successful. It did not work. And, we discovered that the handle to run the hot water in the tub was sheared off…….

Two of the four needed space heaters did not work. Did I mention it was a cold snowy weekend? (Anyone who suffers with arthritis can attest that cold doesn’t sit well in the joints. I was NOT happy, or comfortable.)

We reviewed our lease – which had been an extensive document to go over on Friday afternoon and sign, date and time every page with our letting agent. And, we began writing our issues. After 9 a.m. this morning, we printed the document and delivered it to the letting agent to read, sign and date. When my husband handed it to her, she barely looked at it and said, “I can’t sign this.” Well — that set a certain American’s temper off and unfortunately, he pointed at her and said something to the effect of “You haven’t even read it.” She asked him not to point – I asked him to calm down –  a somewhat reasonable conversation ensued where she did read the document. And, got her manager to sign it and things were being passed along to the “property management team” to take care of quickly. The same property management team that was in charge of the pre-rental inspection and cleaning!

My husband apologized for pointing, but the letting agent never once apologized for what we are going through. I did say to her, “I don’t want you to hear this as attacking you – I know there are always different cultural expectations, but was it unreasonable of us to expect when we were moving in that the shower and stove and washer would be working right away?” She assured me that it wasn’t unreasonable, but that the pre-inspection doesn’t involve checking those things. They had to have been reported as problems by the previous tenant. Huh? Our understanding was that it had been vacant for quite some time. Didn’t they do a good check once the flat was vacated??? Clearly not. And, she was quick to remind us that she had nothing to do with the property inspection, etc, that was the property management team. The one that hasn’t called me yet since we filed our grievances three and a half hours ago.

Two different native Glaswegians have expressed sorrow and dismay over what one referred to as “this farce” of a rental situation, but the letting agent has not. I realize she does not represent Scotland. But I wish I could say to her, this American would feel so much better with a simple, honest apology. Somebody dropped a ball and I wish someone would own up to that. We handed them 1200 hard-earned pounds and expected to be able to be warm, to be able to shower and cook and wash our clothes. As she said, this was not an unreasonable expectation.

I will try to investigate further whether this is a particular letting agency issue, or a challenge in Glasgow in general and let my traveling and studying abroad friends and families be advised.

In the meantime, the sun is shining. I will stop at the grocery store on the way home and buy something for supper that won’t require a stove or oven and hope that this afternoon the phone will ring and fixer-upper appointments will be scheduled. And, perhaps my reasonable expectation of an apology from the letting agent will be fulfilled.

#happywriting #happyreading #happyliving


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White Privilege & White Ignorance

Before I left Milwaukee, I taped two essays at WUWM, one of Milwaukee’s public radio stations. Many thanks again to Mitch Teich, Lake Effect’s Executive Producer. The first audio essay, My Legacy Won’t Be Whitewashed, aired just before Christmas and soon after a verdict came down in the Dontre Hamilton case which has rocked Milwaukee. It has been our Michael Brown and Ferguson case, though not as well known. And, yes, I am aware of the fact that I am referring to two dead black men as “cases” – and no, I’m not okay with that, but I’m unsure what else to say. Loving one of Google’s old rainbows and thinking a lot about my life, and why I’ve known so few living black men.

Google Rainbow


A tweet and Facebook post about the essay got a lot of traffic – including – praise the literary Gods – a retweet from Roxane Gay! I don’t pretend to have any answers about the racial tension in the United States, but I do know that I have lived my life basically on one side of the tracks. If you’re interested in having a listen, click here. You’ll need to click again under the photo when the page comes up. Run time is just over 3 minutes.

Not sure when the next essay will air, but will let you know when I find out.

If my thoughts resonate with you, whatever your experiences have been regarding race relations, I would really LOVE to hear from my readers on your thoughts. If you’ve experienced racism, how do you cope? If you’ve lived an isolated life, like mine, have you taken steps to try to diversify your experience? What has worked? What else should I try to do?


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Living Abroad Now vs 1990-1991

Once upon a time, before Al Gore invented the interwebs, my husband and I moved out of our home in suburban Milwaukee and traveled to Marburg, Germany for a year.  I was thirty and more than a little terrified of going to a country where I didn’t speak the language. But, I was excited. And, that year, that year had its challenges to be sure – (they need a stool sample, seriously?, to let us live here??) – but the good outweighed the bad.  At Christmas in our apartment in Marburg, these were my guys:



Compared to life in the wired world, we had gone in blind. I don’t recall seeing pictures of Marburg before we arrived there (and forget google earth or maps!).

We were much more cut off from our friends and family in the States. Phone calls were expensive and made from phones plugged into a wall – no one carried a connection to the world in their pockets. Recipes came from my Betty Crocker Cookbook (which became popular with the other Americans in our housing complex who hadn’t thought to pack one) or flyers at the grocery store (that we attempted to translate into English). The world didn’t feel confined or small, but looking back, from the vantage point of worldwide connectivity, it does feel smaller.

And, I miss it.

And, I don’t.

And, I’m allowed to feel both ways about it.

I love that now, when I can get online at a time that coincides with daylight hours for my States-side family and friends, I can often chat with some of them — some prefer google chat, others Facebook messaging. I haven’t done any visual chats yet, and won’t until I have wifi in the flat. I can get a feel for what my mother is up to in Florida, how the world is treating a Milwaukee friend who has been ill, etc.

But, while we’ve had a week in our flat without wifi or t.v., I realized how much more reading I did! I inhaled Larry Watson’s Let Him Go (loved this book – family, relationships, obsessions, what will we do for the ones we love?). I’m rereading Dani Shapiro‘s Still Writing and am working on Anthony Doerr‘s, All the Light We Cannot See.  In addition to reading, we’ve been out and about – a lot – trying to help a directionally-challenged me get the lay of the land. We’ve attended a beautiful New Year’s Eve service at the Glasgow Cathedral, a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Glasgow Concert Hall and spent yesterday tromping around Edinburgh.

We’re already talking about how careful we need to be to not disappear into our wired-worlds when wifi arrives in our flat. We’ve probably talked to each other more in the last week than we have in a rather long time. No, I don’t want to go back to the pre-wired world, but I want to be more attentive to turning it off more often.



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A Writer in Glasgow, 2015

We’ve arrived and are settling in to our new flat. Sensory overload is at work – as I fall asleep at night, I hear snippets of English spoken in a way that is oh, so foreign to my ears which are tuned to midwestern media English. Aye, but I’ve beeeeeen in Scotland a wee while and the phrases and sounds are entering my brain along with all the sights. I’ve not written a word yet, but am now, and will more soon, because as I believe Dani Shapiro writes in her memoir, Still Writing, I’m not well when I’m not writing. I need it the way others need oxygen.

So, just a quick look at my first impressions here:

***Glaswegians are as friendly and lovely as midwesterners in the U.S.

***I had anticipated the monochrome winter I’m used to in November in Milwaukee before the snow falls, but have been pleasantly surprised by the green everywhere. This is a view of my apartment building from across the street:



***The furnishings in our flat are adequate – not great – but clean. Here is my husband at our dining table in our living room at his laptop. (We are both struggling mightily with the lack of WIFI in the flat so far. That’s bothering us much, much more than no t.v.)



***My writer synapses were firing like crazy as I wandered through the Necropolis (which is across the street from us – you can see the hillside out the window above). Names on gravestones were screaming “story, story, story” at me. Many Alexanders, Margarets, James, Stewarts, Jessies, Archibalds lie buried there. At the top of the hill is a memorial to John Knox and other protestant reformers — John Knox has come up recently in a confirmation class group I mentor through my church back home, Wauwatosa Presbyterian.


***Nothing dries easily here. It seems even when it’s sunny out (which surprisingly, it has been two of the five days we’ve been here), the humidity is high.

***Enough for now. Must head back to the flat soon and vacate this table I’ve hogged far too long.

I may be doing some separate email updates so if you’d like to be added to that list, please comment with your email address.


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Write a Winning Query, Part Two

Last week, I posted the great advice from Elizabeth Evans of Jean V Naggar Literary and Jess Regel, Foundry Literary & Media, which they shared at Mount Mary University‘s first Publishing Institute.  If you missed it, you might find it helpful to read Write a Winning Query, Part One first and then click back here.  Elizabeth and Jess have seen – and unfortunately, continue to see – the following common query mistakes. Learn what they are and avoid them!

Common Mistakes Agents See in QueriesScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.10.47 AM

The query….

*is too self-aggrandizing    ..Don’t exaggerate your own experience or achievements.

*includes bad endorsements. …It does not matter what your librarian, pastor or aunt thinks.

*reveals too much of the story.

*is rude or aims to shock to gain attention. (Yes, apparently this happens.)

*is poorly formatted.

*is too artsy.

*is too plot-focused.

*uses too many questions.


Ready to send? Final Query Checks

*Run spell-check and have someone else proof it.

*Did you include all your contact information?

*Did you address the query to the agent you mean to be approaching? Have you spelled his/her name correctly?

*Have  you followed the agent’s submission guidelines exactly? Exactly. No wiggle room here folks.


Many thanks to Elizabeth and Jess for sharing this information at the conference and letting me pass it on to all of you here.




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Write a Winning Query, Part One

10423819_10152533870826420_4104195169088167053_nMount Mary University in Wisconsin hosted its first Publishing Institute on Saturday. I attended one session “A Simple Guide to a Winning Query,” with some angst. I’ve attended similar sessions in the past. Would this one offer me anything new? Well, as sometimes happens when you revisit a topic you’re familiar with, there were reminders and new angles that proved helpful to me. I hope the same for you. Our presenters were Elizabeth Evans from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. and Jess Regel from Foundry Literary & Media. The information that follows comes from my notes – I will do my best to present their information as clearly as they did.



A Simple Guide to a Winning Query


First paragraph

Stick to the basics – give the title, genre and word count. If you are uncertain about your genre, you need to figure it out and work it in. So, in my case, the novel I am shopping is definitely in that nebulous “literary” fiction style, that my book club friends love – character driven. But literary fiction doesn’t work well as a genre to pitch – bookstores and libraries need something more specific. Therefore, I say that my novel will be classified as “historical fiction” – and it will – but in the way that BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin or GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson or SARAH’s KEY by Tatiana de Rosnay are classified as historical fiction – and that clears it up. An agent would understand exactly what I mean – the history in my historical fiction is not another character. It is important, don’t get me wrong, but the characters and relationships are more important. If you are a debut novelist or memoirist, it sounded like the “sweet spot” word count is around 85,000 words – and the range to stay within is 65-110,000 words. You hurt your already not great odds by straying outside of that range.

Other things which might appear in the first paragraph, when they are appropriate: Why are you approaching this agent? How did you find her or him? If you admire one of their authors (only if you really do!), let them know.

One great AVOID THIS TIP: Avoid the Eeyore syndrome — don’t put yourself or your book down. And, yes, to my amazement, people do this in queries.

Places to find agents? Publishersmarketplace.com   agentquery.com Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents BUT in all cases: follow the agency’s guidelines EXACTLY. Do NOT rely on the “find the agents” websites or books for the latest information. ALWAYS double-check the agency’s information and follow the latest guidelines posted there.

 Second Paragraph

This is where you will briefly describe your book. Jess Regel encouraged us to remember this is ..”not a synopsis, just a teaser.”  And, she recommended using a movie voice when practicing, “In a world where…” Elizabeth Evans said here it can sometimes work to do a book comparison, her example, “It’s THE LOBSTER CHRONICLES meets WILD.” What else belongs in this paragraph? (NOTE: when using titles for comparisons or comps, try to have them be from the last 8-10 years.)

*Introduce the main character(s)

*Give an indication of the key conflict

*Present important themes — how is the book bigger than its plot? Why is it significant? How will it be universally appealing?

Third Paragraph

This where you toot your own horn, within reason. Lately, working on the anthology,  Done Darkness, I’ve seen so many authors go crazy here. No, every degree, job, citation or award you’ve received does NOT belong here. This is not your c.v. or resume. Here are things that could – appropriately – get worked into this paragraph according to Evans and Regel:

*A little about you and your qualifications (Yes, if you have an MFA or MA with a writing emphasis, that would be appropriate. If you’re pitching a medical memoir and you’re a nurse, that would be appropriate. A Vietnam veteran pitching a war novel with a plumbing license? Maybe not necessary.

*What inspired you to undertake this project? You might mention where the germ of the idea first came from — again, only if it’s interesting and fits.

*Recent meaningful writing credits (So, in my case, when I’m pitching a novel or anything else, no one cares or needs to know the magazine articles I did twenty years ago.)

*Your background/platform (note – critical for non-fiction)

Things to know/remember — Don’t make the mistake many writers do of not working on building a social media presence until they are trying to land a book project. As Elizabeth Evans said, “You need to have “arrived” before you get your book.” Both agents emphasized that they google authors they are considering working with.


Hope you find these helpful. More soon from their presentation on Common Query Pitfalls to avoid and Final Query Checks in Writing the Winning Query, Part Two.



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