Oct 01

Interview with Literary Agent Kimiko Nakamura

You may have noticed that my Wednesday Writing Tips have focused on creative writing for the past few weeks. I’ve been so excited about the upcoming James River Writers Conference that I just couldn’t resist. Yes, we all need to know the differences between less and fewer, who and whom, and historic and historical; indeed, it’s important to know we’re spelling y’all, yeah/yay, and through/threw correctly; however, if our storytelling isn’t working, the entire piece suffers.

Literary Agent Kimiko NakamuraAnd for the storytellers among us, I have a special treat this week. The fabulous Kimiko Nakamura, literary agent at Dee Mura Literary, agreed to do an interview with me. I’ll just dive right in, but for more with Kimiko, she’ll be at the JRW conference this year. I’ll be there. Will you?

KS: What drove you to become a literary agent?

KN: I grew up in a home overflowing with literature on every bookshelf we owned, real or makeshift. In my young mind everything there was to know was on those shelves. I would spend hours inside circles of books I had piled high around myself. Since then, places with high concentrations of books have exerted a gravitational pull on me. So like most, a love of reading propelled me into publishing. While working in publishing houses, I got hooked on a feeling one gets when a new book is announced, a shiny galley comes out, and the finished copies arrive. Each bound copy was so much more than the ink covering all those pages—a world in itself. Several years later, I joined Dee Mura Literary as a literary manager, and now I get to live that excitement again and again with my clients.

KS: What do you enjoy most about your job?

KN: Several things, I feel lucky to say. Finding that diamond in the rough is always a thrill. But I’m most passionate about helping to further my client’s careers and getting to know them as people. I’m happy to say that I’m on a recipe-swapping basis with many of them. It’s a joy to watch a writer grow and be witness to their journey.

KS: I see from your bio on Dee Mura Literary’s website that you represent a broad range of projects from contemporary fiction to urban fantasy to memoir to nonfiction in a variety of topics. Is there anything in particular that you’re looking for right now?

KN: I’m always on the lookout for new projects in my listed genres, but currently I’d love something Covert Affairs inspired with a strong female protagonist—high heels optional. I’m also interested in a cross-country YA escapade that’s equal parts The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for everything! Julie Newmar.

For nonfiction, I’d love a gluten-free cookbook inspired by regional or global cuisines. I’d also like a mind-body title that integrates contemporary practices of mediation, yoga, and stress-reduction techniques from around the world.

KS: What do you wish more writers knew about literary agents?

KN: That we’re looking for reasons to say yes! Writers don’t need to let the fear of receiving a no keep them from sending their work out once it’s ready.

KS: Do you have any advice for what really makes one pitch/query stand out above the others?

KN: A simple salutation that addresses me by name is always a refreshing introduction after I’ve received a few back-to-back queries addressed to “undisclosed recipients.” After that, I appreciate when a writer shows me why they sought me out as their potential agent (i.e. partner in publishing). The best pitches stay close to the standard one single-spaced page by writing what a reader might expect to see on the back copy of a book. If I like the bones of a project, I won’t hesitate to request the sample pages.

KS: How would you describe the ideal writer-agent relationship?

KN: The relationship between a writer and an agent centers around a common goal: furthering a writer’s career. Both work this goal from different ends, cultivating a relationship as business partners. The agent’s role is to be an advocate for their client, taking care of the business aspects of publishing so that the writer can do what writers do best. The writer’s role is put their entire focus on creative energy, whether that is a new manuscript to sell, an article for publication that increases their potential readership, or a social-media storm that generates buzz for a newly published book. When combined together, both partners make a pretty unstoppable team and remarkable things can happen.

Thanks again, Kimiko! It was great chatting with you!

Sep 24

Wednesday Writing Tip #90: Writing a Character’s Mind, Body, and Soul (and language choice!)

CharactersYou know what’s great about people? We’re all different. How I say things is totally different from how my husband does, which is totally different from how my mom would, which is totally different from how my two year old would. Why? We’re different people. We have different language patterns, different brains, and different life experience.

Moreover, if you put me in a room with these people, the way I standperhaps swaying as if I’m holding a baby (even though I might not be)—is different from my husband who might be stretching, or my mom who might be talking with her hands, or my two year old who… well… has an inability to stand still.

People are different. When you write about your characters, allow them to be distinctive. All shouldn’t wink at each other when they say something clever; they shouldn’t all gesture with their hands, nor sigh heavily, nor twirl their dark mustaches menacingly (okay, maybe you weren’t using that last one for everyone). When writing falls into a pattern, you see the author’s personality, not the characters’. And the author should be the invisible hand that guides the story, not the center focus, right? Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 17

Wednesday Writing Tip #89: Where to Start your Story (Not with waking up!)

Fiction Writing Tip - MorningHere’s a writing tip for the fiction writers out there…

Just because a character’s day starts with his or her morning routine doesn’t mean your chapter needs to start there too. We all wake up in the morning, put on our clothes, brush our teeth, and eat our breakfast. Sometimes we stretch. Sometimes we yawn. Do you see how fascinating this paragraph is? Wait, it’s not? I’m glad you’re noticing, because this is exactly my point.

People don’t want to read about everyday details. As writers, we get to create people and worlds and plots. We get to stir ideas and distract readers from their everyday. So why give them more of the everyday?

Creative writing can have so much potential. Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, and even every word should drive the story forward. If a character is just wiggling his or her toes under the blanket, opening his or her eyes, and seeing the sun break through the window, a reader isn’t being pulled in. Ask yourself how you can intrigue. The morning Cheerios aren’t doing it.

Sep 10

Wednesday Writing Tip #88: “Show don’t Tell” – And what it actually means

Show don't TellEvery writer who’s ever taken a creative writing class has heard the instruction: “Show don’t tell.” It’s so often said, it’s almost meaningless. Except it shouldn’t be. Because if actually understood, being able to show and not tell can make the difference between a humdrum story and a tale that comes alive.

“Show don’t tell” is classic writing advice, and for good reason. Imagine the difference between reading, “she’s angry,” and reading, “her hands tightened into fists; her fingernails pressed so hard against her palms that blood surfaced to her sensitive skin.” Okay, maybe I made that up really quickly, and it’s not the most eloquent of lines. But you see what I’m going for. There can be a named emotion, and then there can be the reality of it that a reader can be pulled into.

Let your readers see, hear, feel, and smell what’s going on. Just like a movie, let them take in the entire scene. You cheat them when you just briefly summarize. Don’t just say the room was small; make your reader feel claustrophobic. Don’t say a character is tired; show the weight of his day on his motions and his mind. Let your reader live through the scenes with your characters, being made to feel what the characters feel, seeing them move through vividly created places and react as people, not as two-dimensional, flat beings.

Imagining themselves fully in your world, your readers will become more attached, and getting your readers attached to your characters and your world is key, right?

Happy writing!

Sep 03

Wednesday Writing Tip #87: Misplaced Modifiers (a.k.a. “Lost & Found”)

Misplaced Modifiers & Lost Buttons

Misplaced any language lately?

Misplaced Modifiers sound like items lost in the laundry. Somehow, you always lose a button and a darn modifier ends up in the wrong location. No? Let’s try this again.

Grammar terminology intimidates for some reason. Why, I’m not quite sure, but it may go back to strict English teachers in our formidable years. Misplaced modifiers are actually quite simple to understand. A modifier is a word or phrase that modifies (or describes) something. A misplaced modifier is when that descriptor seems to be describing the wrong thing.

That sounds silly, right? Sure. But it happens ALL THE TIME.

Glistening in the morning sun, the fisherman cast his line out to the water. (Did you catch the misplaced modifier? The “water” is “glistening in the morning sun,” not the “fisherman.”)

The hunter crouched in hiding waiting for a deer to come along with a bow and arrow. (Wait… Who had the bow and arrow?)

Misplaced modifiers can be subtle, confusing, or just plain funny, but be careful with your language. Of all the things we misplace, our ideas shouldn’t be one of them.

Aug 27

Wednesday Writing Tip #86: Dear Abby: Where to Put Commas with Greetings

Greetings, friend.Commas, colons, the vocative case… Who knew a simple hello was so complicated?

It’s not actually. How to punctuate a greeting is really quite easy to remember–never mind if your email inbox argues otherwise.

Remember “dear” is not a greeting like “hello.” Dear is an adjective, a modifier of the name that follows. “Dear Abby” is no different from “My dearest Abby,” “Darling Clementine,” or some similarly old fashioned but enchantingly romantic greeting that has faded out of favor. (Who wants to bring it back with me? Anyone? … Anyone?…)

If you’re beginning a message with “Hi,” “Hello,” “Good morning,” “Hola,” or any other greeting, however, you should include a comma before the name of the message’s recipient. We learned about the vocative case in middle school (maybe), which directs writers to use a comma before a person’s name when they are being talked to.

Throw me the ball, Peyton.

Hi, Mr. Manning.

It’s the same form.

Lazy punctuation has become pretty widespread on this one, though. Do you use commas correctly in your greetings?

Aug 20

Wednesday Writing Tip #85: Avoid the Blackout Comma

The Blackout Comma

Are your commas making you look drunk?

I’ll admit it: I’m an Oxford comma groupie. But there’s a methodology to my comma zealotry. There’s a difference between correctly comma-ing and looking like you’re drunk. (And yes, “comma-ing” is a word. I just made it up, but I’m claiming artistic license.)

In my book (i.e., my opinion, not my actual book), there is butt dialing, drunk texting, and what I dub “the blackout comma.” Why are they there? What is the logic? It’s a mystery that only the writer once knew. And they may not remember now.

Comma reminders:

  • Do not use commas with lists of two.
  • Do not use commas between subject and predicate
  • Do not use commas around “essential people
  • Do not use commas between adjectives of size and/or color

Sure, we all slip and have one comma too many on occasion. It happens to the best of us. I just feel like I’ve seen a lot of intoxication lately. Maybe it’s just the season for beers at backyard barbecues and tropical drinks at the beach. Consider me your punctuation sponsor. It’s all about moderation, people.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 13

Wednesday Writing Tip #84: “Into” vs. “In to”

"Do not go gentle into that good night." - Dylan ThomasDylan Thomas told us, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” But something as simple as a space would confuse the meaning of a famous line, wouldn’t it? Are you one of the many who muddle “into” and “in to”?

“Do not go gentle in to that good night” just doesn’t make sense, as if you’re “going gentle” for the reason of doing something vague and badly worded to the night. And you know what else doesn’t make sense? Your recent Facebook post when you meant to use “in to” instead of “into.” I kid. But I don’t.

A simple reminder, if you’re unsure whether you need to use “into” or “in to,” ask yourself the question, “where?” If your sentence answers that question, you need “into” – the preposition. Otherwise, maybe you just happen to be using these two words (“in” and “to”) next to each other. Maybe it’s a short version of “in order to,” or maybe it’s not. But if it answers “where,” it should probably be just one word.

Where should you not go gentle? Into that good night.

Where should dirty laundry go? Into the hamper.

If the “where” question doesn’t make sense with your sentence, you probably don’t need the preposition.

Rage, rage against the dying of the proper grammar. In my own little way, I try.

Jul 16

Summer Break – Fun with Grammar

I’m taking a few weeks off from writing tips, but I won’t leave you grammar hungry. Can I tell you all how much I have enjoyed how many times you all have tagged me, DMed me, and shared this video with me? Yes, you’re all right. I totally love it too.

Jul 09

Wednesday Writing Tip #83: Where to Use Semicolons (a.k.a. “This Semi-colon Kind of Life”)


I want something else
To get me through this
Semicolon kinda life
Baby, Baby…

I’m thinking my version works—a “Schoolhouse Rocks” for ‘90s kids or the ‘90s nostalgic. I figure we need something new. No one seems to know how to use semicolons. They’re the misused and abused punctuation mark, thrown down without much thought. But they should have some dignity.

Semicolons should only be used in three situations:

  1. Separating complete sentences. Always make sure that you have complete sentences on both sides of the semicolon here. You can combine two or more complete sentences in this way; there’s no real limit. (e.g., Third Eye Blind was a ‘90s standard; I never realized that song talked about doing meth; you’re looking up the lyrics now, aren’t you?)
  2. Separating items in a complicated list. The definition of a complicated list is any list that has commas within it. (e.g., Some of the biggest Third Eye Blind songs that come to mind include Semi-charmed Kind of Life, released in 1997; Jumper, released in 1997; and How’s It Going To Be, also released in 1997.)
  3. Winky faces ;)

Please stop using them where dashes or simply commas make more sense.

Doo doo doo, doo doo-doo doo…

Darn it, now that song’s in my head. Anyone else?


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