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The Art-Committed Life

A Newsletter by Author Patrick Ross

The latest tips and trends on sparking your muse as a creative writer and artist

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3 Key Novel Elements To Hook A Literary Agent On Page One

It's your lucky day! A literary agent you've queried asks to read the first few pages of your novel. Does your book's opening have what it takes to secure an offer of representation?

Meet Jeff

Jeff Kleinman, Founding Partner of and Literary Agent with Folio Literary Management, recently shared with participants of the 2020 Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Retreat three key things he looks for in the opening page(s) of a novel. Here's what your novel needs to keep Jeff reading, and possibly choosing to extend an offer of representation. 

icon of speaker

You hear this all the time, but what does it mean? In this case, Jeff is referring to the author's voice, not necessarily that of the character we're meeting. The "voice" telling him a story should be engaging and consistent. The former keeps him reading, and the latter gives him confidence the writer is skilled enough to address imperfections in the manuscript. Be sure your author voice matches the genre.

icon of person running

Please don't tell me your book opens with a character looking out across a field and remembering a lost love. Don't open your novel with a character in stasis, Jeff says. Even if it's not an "action" book, our protagonist must be doing something. Ideally, they are acting in a moment of crisis, which will help us care about the character and want to keep reading.

icon of pencil editing paper

No passive voice. No typos. No clumsy author interjections, where you abruptly spend three paragraphs explaining a character's back story or, even worse, three pages in an abrupt flashback scene. Keep your reader in the moment with the character in action (see Momentum). Get a second set of eyes on the pages before you submit to catch what you're overlooking.

New Novel Alert!

New Speculative Fiction Novel by Adam McOmber

A shoutout to speculative fiction author and VCFA Faculty Member Adam McOmber on the publication of his latest novel, Jesus and John. This fast-paced read begins with the reader greeted with a reimagining of the true relationship between Jesus and one of his most loyal apostles. This is not an anti-religion tract, however; the reader is quickly taken on an unexpected and dangerous journey into the unknown.

Read my Goodreads Review
An Update on my Art-Committed Life

You're a creative person, so I know this has been a difficult year for you to connect with your muse. It's hard to find the silver lining in a global pandemic. Perhaps it's easier to feel joy that more and more people are waking up to systemic racism, in particular for Blacks. Realizing the extent of the problem can only make things worse emotionally, however. For me as a White American, I find myself feeling guilty about how I have benefited in my life from White privilege, and more guilt that I am not doing enough to help make things right.

And through all of this we still seek to create. That's why I participated in the 2020 VCFA Novel Retreat. As much as I would have loved a week in Vermont with fellow creatives, the organizers made the right decision to hold it through Zoom, and they pulled it off brilliantly. I learned a tremendous amount, received great feedback on my novel in progress, and formed a bond with writers I had never met before. 

Yes, I'm still working on an urban fantasy novel. Two years in, I learned from my faculty review that while my world-building is solid, I have a ways to go with plot, character development, and POV. At least I feel capable of making those adjustments. I've now dived in, knowing I won't be ready for another review of the manuscript until 2021. We won't have solved the problem of racism by then, but perhaps progress will have been made with a treatment and/or vaccine for COVID-19. And, just maybe, I'll find myself next summer enjoying the company of fellow creatives on a small MFA campus in Montpelier.

Happy creating!


Patrick Ross, Author

Carlsbad, CA

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