Saturday, September 29, 2007

Writing, like Music, is a powerful tool

In reading first lines, I have come face to face with the reality that some writers "got it", and some don't, and then there's this other class of writers that write so beautifully that it's hard to believe the power they manage to express in one sentence. Chaim Potok's first sentences are infinitely more powerful than almost anyone else's. This distressed me for a minute--I can't write like that, and the harder I try, the worse I write. Then I talked to Tim (he is so wise) who reassured me that my voice is sufficient for the stories I have to tell, and if I'm writing with what Ueland says is "Honesty" or sincerity, my writing is good for what I'm doing.

Then I picked up Douglass Adams. I'm still reading only first lines. He managed to make me laugh in only ten words. How's that for power. No, it didn't have the beauty that Chaim Potok had, but it had the same power to move me to feel. And, frankly, I prefer to laugh than to cry.

So there you go.

I don't have to be Chaim Potok to have my writing worthwhile.

Goodness--I don't even like to read the stuff Potok wrote. It's good. It's powerful. It's so powerful at stirring emotions that it's too much for me, and I can't handle it. Why would I want to write stuff I can't stand to read?

Friday, September 28, 2007

More on First Lines

More studying of first lines of novels--this time in the form of reading the first line of every book I come across, most of them classics.

This is what I discovered:

And author has exactly 1 sentence (a short one, too, maybe 10 words) to get the reader completely into the setting OR the plot OR the character. That's it. One line. By the end of that first line, you've either caught them or you haven't. For most of the 1800s and early 1900s, authors seemed to favor getting you right into the setting (with lines like, "The wicked sea tossed and toppled the little ship as if it were a toy to be played with and then discarded."). Since the mid-1900s, authors have really drifted to dropping you right into the plot, but through the mind of the point-of-view character (the one that you see the story through). Like (a paraphrase of one of Susan Cooper's first lines) "He remembered that Mary told him they would all speak Welsh." The reason this is effective is it gives you a taste of all three--plot, character, and setting.

Several agents have decried the use of dialogue on page one. They seem to favor action rather than "talking heads". Dialogue is an easy way for an author to give information that sets the setting, backstory, and characters. The problem with it is that it doesn't open up the picture in the reader's mind. It just tells you that someone thinks something might have happened once or might be going to happen. Dialogue with action seems acceptable, as does dialogue with action and description. It's not that people can't talk on page one. It's that there shouldn't ONLY be talking on page one.

Most of the agents spend a lot of time trying to explain the intangible "It just has to be good" with "rules" (which they all admit are more like guidelines that can be broken because, well, if it's good, it doesn't follow rules anyway...). Rules like "No dream sequences." "Don't start with someone sitting around thinking." "There needs to be action on page one." "I want a body in line one." "No talking heads." "A description of the setting with no characters is boring."

What they mean is, "Go read a bunch of first lines and see what works. If you find you've read all of page 1 without thinking about it--that worked!"

So I'm still pondering the first line problem in my book. I like where I went with the first line I posted last week, but I couldn't get it to work with the rest of the book. As usual when I've done something wrong with the text, I couldn't work any more. I spent hours every day staring at the screen, re-reading chapter 1 and the first 3 pages of chapter 2 over and over and over, with a complete stupor of thought and inability to go on.

So now the first line (or two) says: "Kate suddenly wished that 'Escape from Coffins and Other Confined Spaces' had been a required course in her high school." She then squirms around and wishes she had the training and gadgets that kid spies from the stories have.

I'm still not entirely settled on it--there's still the problem of the segue back into the flashback that brings you to 12 hours earlier and shows how she got into the box. And it might be still not "right" somehow. But it's easier to work with than cookies.

Editor's Note: I realized the first line, as it stands, is not true to Kate's character. She would never presume a school that can't meet her academic needs would ever dream of meeting other needs. Now the first line reads, "Kate wished she'd read a book about escaping from coffins. Was there such a book?" This is true to Kate's character because she WOULD read a book about that for fun. She reads nonfiction avidly, and the last book she put down was "The Encyclopedia of Mummies," which she read just after she read a book on forensic entomology.

Dinner Tonight

Everyone is always asking me for a good chili recipe. I, actually, searched for YEARS to find one that was good, practical, cheap, and easy to make. I actually ended up combining several ideas, modifying the recipes, etc. And here you have it:


1-2 lbs beef (ground, stew meat, leftover roast, canned beef chunks--whatever)
2 cans (8oz) tomato sauce
2 cans beans (any variety you like in chili--even 1 can of store-bought chili and 1 can pork n' beans works)
1 onion, diced (or 1 tbsp dried minced onion)
1-2 cans diced green chilies (opt, but really add a lot)or 1-2 diced fresh ones(opt)
1/4 c diced celery (opt)
1/4 c diced green pepper (opt)
1-3 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp-1 tbsp chili powder (depending on how flavorful you want it)
1/2-1 tsp black pepper (depending on how "hot" you like it)
1 tsp salt

Brown veggies (if you're using them) and meat (or otherwise cook it; if it's leftover roast, chop it); drain the fat. In a large pot, combine everything. Bring to a boil. Simmer as long as you like to blend the flavors (10 minutes-3 hours--add water if you need so it doesn't burn). You can do this in a crock pot with stew beef and cook it all day. I usually use 1 lb stew beef, plus the sauces and spices in the crock pot for 3-4 hours on high. Then I brown and drain 1 lb ground beef with whatever veggies I'm using (except cook the onions in the crock pot)and add the beans and hamburger at the same time for the last hour or so of cooking. DON'T use dry beans and try to cook them in the crock pot. If you use dry beans, cook them thoroughly on the stove and add them fully cooked.

And, to go with your chili:

The Best Corn Bread
1 1/4 c flour
3/4 c cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sugar or so (I honestly use a handful)
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 c milk
1/4 c shortening
1 egg

Mix powdered ingredients. Cut in shortening with a pastry cutter. Add milk and egg and stir just until blended. Pour into a greased 7x10 or 8x8 square pan or a round cake pan. Bake at 400 F for 25-30 minutes (until golden).

And, to go with your corn bread:

Honey Butter
1/2 c butter, softened (margarine doesn't really work...although I keep trying it and it tastes okay; it just doesn't whip)
1/3 c honey

Whip in a mixer until light and fluffy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

actually healthy pancakes

This was a new recipe we tried (I did not make this one up....). It has no sugar. None. Tastes like a dessert, but there's no sugar and only 1/3 c flour, so it's good for my ADD crowd.

3 eggs, separated
3/4 c cottage cheese
1/3 c flour
1/4 tsp salt

Beat the egg whites until stiff. In a separate bowl, beat the yolks. Stir in the cottage cheese. Add the flour and salt. Mix well. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Cook like high-carb, low-nutrition pancakes. Serve hot.

I served them topped with a dab of strawberry jam and my favorite fruit dip (1 c sour cream mixed with 2 tsp vanilla--also no sugar). We folded them like tacos and ate them with no dishes.

It really tastes like a rich dessert, but is healthy!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Library of Congress

It is no mystery that the library of congress website is my favorite on all the web. But today we found the kids' Library of Congress site.

It's here:

Very cool. Go see.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

First Lines

Nathan Bransford (see sidebar for link to his blog) recently had a first line contest, and I learned a lot. I was already puzzling over the first line of my novel. I knew it was wrong, but, ever since I cut the old introduction, I haven't been able to figure out what to write. Reading the top ten entries in Mr. Bransford's contest helped a lot.

The old first line: "Kate hated to read. That's not entirely true. She hated to read fiction." I really liked it, and I still do, but I couldn't see starting a YA novel with an essay on the main character's relationship to books (as a description of who she is in general). I wanted to start with action--something that would suck you right in, instead of something that makes you say, "Oh."

There were many interim first lines, prologues, introductions, first five pages (I think I rewrote the first five pages at least 20 times, eventually reducing 50 pages to 2), flashbacks, dialogues, action, etc. I moved the beginning forward and back, trying to puzzle out the best starting point that gave me the right balance of a "dead body in the first line," as Miss Snark recommended (I wonder if she is the agent for Sarah Graves, who writes the "Home Repair is Homicide" series? She would approve, I think), and enough backstory and character development that you care about the main character. I realize the start of the story is the point where the character can no longer turn back--in this case, she's literally stepping through a door--but it didn't feel right to start right there in the first paragraph or you really don't care that she can't turn back.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I was trying to balance the dual needs for compelling action and a compelling character. The two requirements are not necessarily at odds--I just couldn't seem to get them both into the first paragraph. It just wasn't interesting. It didn't "suck you in."

It helped when I rewrote (not revised; not edited--actually deleted and started over) the first third of the book. Then Tim suggested a first line concept that really caught my fancy, and I'm testing it out.

So now, for your review and comments, the current first sixty words or so of The Poison Spindle Problem:

"Death by cookie.

No. That was a terrible first line for a novel.

Besides, it defeated the purpose. The reason Kate was trying to figure out what the first line would be if this were a novel instead of real life was to distract herself from the probable outcome of being locked in a crate and carried off by costumed kidnappers."

From there, we go back 12 hours and cover who she is and how she got into the box and why she's talking about cookies, and come back to this exact section, expanded some, about 10 pages later as the beginning to chapter 2.

What do you think? Most specifically: Does It Make You Want To Read More?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Girl Stuff

Today, Anda informed me that when she's grown up, she'll "have a pyramid, too. Then I'll have PMS, too. Just like you, mommy."

Oh--is THAT what they call it?

Monday, September 10, 2007

First grade....

Before Caleb is allowed to work on his online curriculum, he has to do at least one page in each of his workbooks. Otherwise we'd never get to them because Caleb has deemed them boring. No wonder--they're too easy for Anda!

Anyway, today I explained the assignment--write the word for what's in the picture (pen, boxes, fish, and something else I don't remember). Then I went to do something. When I came back, I found him writing the four words. He was working intently, erasing a perfectly formed "e". When I looked closer, I realized why. He was holding the book upside down, writing the words upside down, and the e had come out backwords when he turned it right-side up to check his work.

I guess he has to challenge himself somehow since the curriculum isn't doing it for him....


I think I am being punished for laughing out loud at Lindsey's post about Ari messing up her bed...

Today I was teaching Caleb fractions (stupid online program introduced 1/2 and 1/4 and then asked Caleb to infer that 2/8 is the same as 1/4--on his first exposure to fractions. duh!), and Daniel asked to come up on my lap. He climbed up but was so so squirmy, and trying to perch on the edge of my leg, and I finally put him down and said, "You can't sit on me like that!" (aahh--the funny things moms say...if taken out of context it definitely makes the list of "what?!!").

I put him down and saw he was scratching his back and it was.....brown.

Upon closer examination (not much closer--it smelled bad), I discovered that his diaper had leaked all over him, up his back, and even on the cuffs of his t-shirt sleeves (how did that happen?). Naturally, I noticed all this after it was also smeared all over my shirt and pants.

Nice work, there. I got pooped on while sitting at the table twice--by two different boys--in two days.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Yesterday we went to two parties: One a typical Mormon gathering, the other a typical non-Mormon gathering.

The first was the baptism of a friend's daughter. First was the service (very nice, although I wondered when someone started into "What do you think the Holy Ghost's real name is?"--that was a little beyond normal). Afterward, as is traditional, everyone went to the next room and had treats. As usual, they served water (we were in the church building in the Elder's Quorum room--carpeted, so no red koolaid or soda). Also typical, all the food was the kind you can hold in your hand--no dishes to wash. They did have cake, but it was served on napkins with plastic forks, not at all out of the ordinary for Mormons. The gathered crowd was also typical: all ages of people, from elderly to newborn, with at least as many children as adults (maybe more). Everyone was dressed in Sunday clothes, mostly worn familiarly and not starched or brand new, but also not old or worn out or stained. The men wore ties, but without the stiffness that men sometimes take on when wearing ties. The children were happy, busy, but well-behaved. Everyone stood around or opened folding chairs and chatted with each other, with plenty of talk between different ages of people, even if they weren't related to one another. None of the adults looked uncomfortable with the children, and nobody thought twice of our four in hand. Everyone seemed to be connecting with one another. They socialized for about half an hour, and then the party dissolved into minivans and suvs and went home--the family of the girl who was baptised (including grandparents and cousins) admittedly retiring to the girl's home for a family dinner (at which probably 20 people sat and ate, I would guess). The whole event lasted an hour, from 4:00-5:00pm. I went to a less-populated room and visited with several people one-on-one while I nursed the baby under a blanket, but not by any means in private, and nobody even batted an eyelash.

At about 7:30, we showed up for the other party, hosted at a lovely house in Boulder by one of Tim's professors. The crowd was a mix of grad students, conducting professionals, and professors. There was a great variety of foods, all served on nice china, with desserts served on glass plates. We weren't the only family there, but we easily doubled the number of people in any space at one time, and the four blonde children caused something of a stir. The one other mother there with a baby had retreated upstairs to nurse. There was a huge variety of drinks in metal buckets full of ice, both soda and "not kid friendly" (alcoholic). The hostess was very skilled in an etiquette book kind of way, and took great pains to introduce her guests to one another and visit with each person. Her house was perfect, there were chairs for everyone, and she was social. But in a spare moment, I looked over and she looked sad. (At a mormon gathering, someone would have pulled her aside and asked if she was feeling well, but nobody did). All the food was pretty, and tasty. Even the sliced peaches came with the label "Organic; Picked today"--and they were good. (I could have eaten the whole bowlful, but I refrained.) Everyone was drinking except us. We had gingerale, which made the kids instantly hyperactive and me grumpy. The other guests had to keep lifting cups of wine out of reach of the two-year-olds, who seemed to think it was soda or fruit juice. Everyone was friendly and nice. I was surprised, in a gathering of Tim's colleagues, to have to explain (like I do at every other gathering in the world) that Tim is a musician. I hadn't realized that academic musicians don't gig, making Tim something of a rarity. I suspect that academic musicians are as far separated from gigging musicians as Creative Writing Professors are from professional authors. They don't live in the same world or even speak the same language. We usually excuse ourselves around the time peope start acting like they've had a couple of drinks. Just as we did that, the kids wanted cupcakes. Before anyone took a bite, Tim asked, "Are these safe?" Everyone who had been watching then (and only then) noticed what was going on and said, "Um....No." The cupcakes were spiked with liquor and coffe beans. It immediately reminded me of Tim's song, "Cupcakes can kill you. They're made of death...."

So, two parties, both successful for what they were designed. But I realized some things.

One was that alcohol no only isolates you from your own real self, and your senses, but also from other people. Alcohol makes it impossible for people to truly connect to one another. Yes, drinking is a social thing. In fact, for almost everyone in the world, it's the only social thing. But it actually prevent truly Social things from happening because there is no society formed by people who are "socializing" by drinking. They don't know each other and they don't know themselves. So, while serving alcohol at a party is intended to make people relax so they can socialize, it is actually counterproductive. Very few people at the second party actually KNEW each other, even though they spend huge amounts of time together. They certainly don't understand anything about Tim except that he doesn't drink. Both Tim and I really wanted to sit and talk to each of the people there and find out what they think and what they know, what they like and dislike, who they are. But that's impossible to do with someone who is drinking. The alcohol prevents the level of intimacy required for people to connect with one another.

Another thing I realized is that Mormons are unusually free to have compassion. If I looked sad at a Mormon social gathering, half a dozen people would pull me aside to make sure I was okay, and they'd follow up the next time they saw me. They do this not to pry, and not to gossip, and not from duty, but from an honest concern for the people around them. I got the sense that that would be a taboo behavior in non-Mormon gatherings. How odd....

I came away from the second party saying to myself, "Why don't Mormons have parties like that?" It wasn't very long that I realized we do. All the time. More frequently than any other people do. It's just that when you have a party, you invite maybe twenty or thirty people you want to be with. For a Mormon woman about 55 years old, those people you most want to be with will start with your spouse, your 5-9 children, their spouses, and each of their 3-5 children, and that makes 25-65 people, right there. And that's just family. Fills up your whole house. And we have these parties once a week in close families; once a month otherwise. Complete with food and desserts and drinks (but no alcohol, of course). The fact that 95% of guests to parties are family completely defines how Mormons have all parties. For example, dress is casual. People don't really rsvp for things. Invitations are extended in person, over the phone, announced online, or even assumed. People bring kid-friendly foods (not just alcohol-free, but stuff kids actually like to eat). Often foods are fingerfoods to spare the women from washing literally hundreds of dishes. Any dishes used are assumed to be disposable, and nobody even thinks twice if the dishes are mismatched, even at semi-formal affairs. And everyone expects to do things that allow people to truly coonect with each other, whether that's talk, play board games, play sports, or watch movies or sports together. It's the Together that's the key, and the connecting--long term. Mormons like to know whats going on in each other's lives. They talk a lot about kids, having kids, raising kids, funny and terrible kid experiences. Mormons even do such outlandish things as talk about birth stories and nurse babies with men in the room--and the men join in the talk and jokes (they have birth stories, too, since they watch the person they love most go through childbirth many times). There are taboos at Mormon parties, of course--anything you can't say or do in front of a verbal, inquisitive five year old is off limits, even if the kids are out of the room.

So I realized once again that I'm living in Colorado culture, but I'm entrenched in Mormon culture, which is just as distinctly different than most of the world as Amish culture is.

When I was in college, one folklore professor said that many folklorists refuse to study Mormons as a folk group because so much of their culture is actually proscribed by the Church. i knew right away that the folklorists are wrong. They said you can't have a folk culture without a folk quisine, and Mormons don't have one.

The problem is, we do. And it's not just defined by the Word of Wisdom (no coffee, tea, alcohol for ingesting, no tobacco for people at all; should eat fruits and veggies in season, meat sparingly all the time, and use grain, including wheat for the staple of the diet and barley for drinks), which is proscribed and therefore not "folk". It's also not defined by the teachings about food storage and how to use it. The Mormon folk quisine is defined, like the parties, by the family. The foundation of the quisine is making a lot of food (to feed a family of 9 or more), quickly (because the women have lots to do each day besides cook), and on a tiny budget (because women are supposed to stay home and raise the children, so families have a single wage-earner), while still using food storage and following the word of wisdom and the teaching to have a garden.

For us Mormons, cupcakes are kid food.


I was reading a very funny blog post about my nephew here: and Benjamin was sitting happily on my lap. All of a sudden, my leg got warm, and I put my hand down and pulled it back, dripping in greenish-yellow slime.

Read the blog post to see the irony in this....

A few minutes later:

I wrote the first half of this sitting still in the puddle. It wasn't going to get any puddler, right?

So then Tim walked in and I went to change me and baby, and Tim sat down at the computer. Right in a puddle that was on the chair--I didn't know how messy we really were!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Dan has been talking a lot, but he doesn't know all the words. He's gained enough confidence to guess, though, and we get some cute things.

For example, yesterday he looked at the Maxed Out Puppetry site with the kids. The first video they started watching was called "Old White Wavy Beard," and it opens with an elderly puppet man standing in front of a tree. Dan apparently had been pondering for a long time what we've been talking about, because he said, "Oh! Puppy Trees!" It took me a while to make the connection--Puppetry.

Today he asked for a treat, and I asked him what kind he wanted. "Rolly Patties," he said. It was a long time before we figured that one out: tootsie rolls.

Ah--life is never dull.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Poison Spindle Problem: Draft 7567

I will never never never ever say my novel is finished ever again.

I got another rejection from a partial, but it was very positive, with specific positive comments (she said I have "witty dialogue."). I figured the rejection was coming because I rewrote the whole beginning of the novel. Not just revised. I actually threw away the first ten chapters or so and re-did the sequence of action, prompted by a realization that several key characters were behaving in a way that was inconsistent with their characters. I really like the new version and am getting positive feedback for the flow and "fun". I'm also not surprised by the rejection because I had queried the senior agent at one of the oldest agencies in the nation. They are well respected, and handle some very established, famous authors (like Steinbeck--THE Steinbeck). The fact that they'd even request the partial was HUGE. To get positive comments instead of a form letter is extremely flattering. The other reason I'm not surprised at the rejection is I now realize I write YA fiction, and this agent doesn't do YA. So that's the wrong fit anyway. But she was really nice.

So now I'm trying to weave the new and old together nicely and finding that some things ("discoursal animals" and who is Goldie anyway?) have to be put back in because they were inadvertently cut. However, Tom (the Piper's Son) is more prominent, and I really like him more and more the more I get to know him, and that solves the "where's the love interest" comment I got repeatedly from readers of early drafts. Kate ends up travelling with Tom through much of the book, and he makes a healthy foil to Ali Babba, surprisingly, even though one is an older, experienced thief and the other is an 18-year-old college student who wants to be a spy. It works, though. Now I have to fix the chapter numbers, though. I have no chapter 7 at all, and there are four chapter 12s in a row. That's what comes of repeated massive edits.

We're still marginally too long: 135,000 words, but I'm still cutting masses of information as I edit. I might actually get down to that "top limit of acceptable" of 120,000. Except the top acceptable limit for YA is about 85,000 words. So maybe I'll keep it at 135,000 words and sell it as two books of 75,000 or so each.

So the series of queries I've sent out and learned from have prompted many many rewrites, and the responses I get from the queries is encouraging. The first round were mostly nos up front; the second I got some reads out of and some comments; the next round I got more reads and more comments; now I'm gettting rejections with positive comments but "not right for me." So I'm hoping the next round with be several "I need to read more" with "hey, I can sell this book!" results. One would be enough. For the first time, though, I'm feeling like polishing the manuscript and then plastering the query all over--to all the agents that seem like a good fit at once, instead of 6-8 at a time. It's an interesting strategy. If the book is as good as I think it will be, I should be able to choose from several competing agents. If not, I've burned all my bridges at once and will have to start over with another novel and sell Poison Spindle second.

Melody Goes to Estes Park

Sometimes part of Tim's pay for events comes in the form of "perks." Often he gets a bonus stuffed animal, or dinner thrown in.

He recently got hired to do a high school choir "retreat", workshopping the underclassmen. They offered to put the whole family in a hotel for the weekend so we could play while he taught, as a perk. So Friday night we loaded up the car and drove an hour and half to Estes Park, just at the gates of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was expecting to stay in a Motel 6, hopefully with a pool.

When we were almost there, Tim said, "Did I mention we're staying at the YMCA?"

No. I wouldn't have come had he mentioned that. My preconception about YMCAs was men and women can't stay in the same dorm, and everyone sleeps in big open rooms. I was REALLY WRONG.

When we got there, we found our "hotel" was actually a cabin on top of a mountain, surrounded by trees and huge rocks and wildlife and stars. It was really awesome. We took a walk in the dark and remembered that we love the mountains and walking in the dark.

And we discovered that our children had never played in the mountains before!

So Saturday we got up and found that all our meals were included in the "perks" for the retreat. And that not only could the kids play in the mountains and go hiking, there was a pool on the grounds (which were huge). Then we started reading the paperwork and found that we could swim, hike, go miniature golfing, play basketball, go the library and museum, go square dancing, etc etc etc all for FREE. They had bins of bubbles sitting out for kids, and just lots of fun things here and there. And playgrounds!

So we hiked, and played in the mountains. Then we went swimming twice. And we played mini golf, which the kids adored. Daniel walked around with his "hammer" (the club) hitting the ball a few inches and then carrying it and tossing it into the hole. Anda and Caleb played holes at the same time (so we wouldn't hold anyone up), and there were few rules, so there was lots of picking up the ball and moving it, or shepherding it into the hole, or trying again from the start. It was a riot. And really fun. I didn't bother to keep score--too complicated.

By the time we climbed out of the pool (at 10:00 pm), everyone was exhausted. Daniel had even fallen asleep in the pool, floating peacefully on his infant life jacket. We all climbed into the car, and Caleb cried and cried because it was so fun and he didn't want to leave. All four children slept all the way home.

All together it was the best non-monetary "pay" Tim has received for his services.

They do family "camps" all year up there, too. For $75/adult ($55/child) per day, you get a place to sleep, three meals, and all the activities you can imagine, including horseback riding and ropes courses. One of the camps is a "magic" camp where you meet with a magician and learn how to do the tricks. (Caleb liked that idea!) Sounds steep for us scroungers, but if you consider that Disneyland is $55/day without food and without lodging, it's not too bad. Especially for all those activities included free.

New Resource for Writers

Go to QueryTracker! The link is on the sidebar. It has a searchable database for agents, and each agent's page links you to all the other standard resources on that agent: google, yahoo, agentquery, preditors and editors, etc. Also, other users can enter comments, so you can see what other people are saying about the agent.

And, best of all, it does what I have been doing with my own home-made chart: it keeps track of what agents you've queried, when, and what their responses are. It can also save your query for each agent online (in case of computer failure--it's not lost!), and produce envelopes and letterhead for you (you have to choose and mail the queries to the agents yourself, so it's not like one of those query blaster scams).

And it's free.....(the guy who started it three months ago, in Montana, does need donations, though, and has some cool services available to "premium" members--at $25/year. Pretty cheap except for those of us who are broke. That's a problem, for sure--so many people searching for agents are broke writers.)