To the point of Madness

I think I’ve revised every sentence in my query at least 3 times today.  Good news: it looks better each time.  Bad news:  tomorrow morning I’ll see more faults.  Although right now I feel it’s much better than even an hour ago.  I took out some overly worded sentences, added a little more voice, and adjusted the info that I put in.  A lot of it is just syntax at this point.  Syntax and word-choice.  It actually makes me excited about the book again.

I’ve reached out for feedback from a few other people, but alas, not many have written query letters.  This is when it would’ve been helpful to have some comedy credentials.  Maybe a Conan appearance, or at least a Live at Gotham set on Comedy Central.

Gees, it’s almost 9:00 already.  I want to start reading then.  I raced around all day, only slowing to drag my sophomores through the last part of part one of The Odyssey.  Seriously, the acting chops I put on today trying to sell that it was interesting–Oscar buzz.

Here’s an adulting tip: Even if you don’t like the lesson the teacher is teaching, realize they probably don’t either–but they have to teach it (this book and Shakespeare are the only required texts technically).  So…don’t give stink eyes and groans.

Oh, and here’s that last draft.


Another writing opportunity.

I was in this show in 2015 and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  You make new friends at rehearsal, you get all kinds of free stuff, and I got to be in a front page article of the Post-Dispatch.  I’ll help you revise your essay if you’re interested…

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For the hundredth time…

Thoughts on this version of my query letter?  (I had to make it longer than previous version)


At 17, Mark hopes finding his first girlfriend is as easy as his academics, but when one girl humiliates him by expressing her feelings in a school-wide trainwreck of a display, others start to notice his availability. This includes a senior who parties with college guys and has no reservations about pressuring Mark into doing a lot more than just holding hands.

Mark Lender is openly desired by Katy, the most outlandish girl in school who isn’t afraid to profess her love at any time. Katy’s unorthodox and delusional gestures towards Mark are witnessed by nearly the entire school–including Angel, the standout, flame-throwing softball pitcher who dwarfs him not just in height, but also sexual experience. Once she shows interest, he soon finds himself dominated by thoughts of her, especially during his early morning jogs that eventually lead past her house. While still battling to evade Katy’s obsessive stunts, Mark worries what his deceased mother must think of his potential loss of innocence regarding Angel. The novel explores Mark’s attempt to outrun the social pressures of both being pursued and pursuing, while discovering that his ignorance leads to one erroneous assumption after another.

AROUND THE BLOCK is a 58,000-word stand-alone YA novel. I have an English Degree from Ohio State and a Master’s Degree in secondary education from Missouri-St. Louis. I am in my seventh year of teaching high school language arts and my eighteenth year as a professional stand-up comedian. Both careers contribute heavily to my writing. I self-published a nonfiction guide to comedy titled Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage in 2012 which has sold over 2,500 copies on Amazon and in-person after shows.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Rob Durham


Query Letter Feedback

It finally showed up late last night:


Rob Durham: 

 This query letter is very short. You do a great job starting with the story, but we need more. You’ve got a pretty good hook, but you also need to utilize the first section of the query by including the conflict and stakes which Mark will be facing. 

 Moving to the second section of the query, I would recommend removing the first part where you mention the title and word count. Use this paragraph strictly to support the first story paragraph which includes the hook, conflict, and stakes. Use supporting details from the story to build off those three things that you should include in your opening paragraph. 

 For a third section, this is where you need to include the title, word count, and comp titles. That is pretty much all you need to include in that section, it’s normally no more than two sentences. 

 Finally, your bio is fine. You don’t really need to mention at the end that you will happily send along more material, especially a synopsis as most agents will request that material in the initial query anyway. 

 Please let me know if you have any questions!





My concern is his method goes against the method I was taught.  I guess it’s not a huge deal, yes I should add more details if I can, but it’s more about structure than wording.  I wanted some help on the wording, so I may just email him back.

I’m in a rut right now of having so many things (I want) to do, that I haven’t quite focused on just one.  I need to be a list of priorities, and handle those in the order that I decide.  But some days I feel like writing, some I feel like researching, and some I feel–actually, none of them feel like days I want to send out more queries.  But alas, I must.  So first on the list of priorities?  Make the list.

Zits and Wrinkles

I think it was 4th grade when I started to get acne on my forehead.  It ran in the family.  My brother and sister struggled with it (is struggled the right word?  Maybe dealt instead?) into adulthood where as mine ended around my early 20s.

Anyway, I didn’t care in 4th or 5th grade.  My sister went to a dermatologist for hers.  She had all kinds of stuff, and my mom suggested I started using it too.  It wasn’t until I applied this sandpaper-like like green cream (cream isn’t the right word and I’m sure of that)–lets say paste instead–anyway, it wasn’t until I applied it that I really took a look at my forehead and saw all my zits up close in a mirror.  I mean, I knew I had them, but wow, there were a lot.  And it wasn’t from my growth spurt, which politely waited until my basketball career was a joke at the age of 17.

Fast forward almost 30 years.  On a whim (read as on Amazon late at night after seeing a Facebook post and having a few egg nogs), I ordered some vitamin C crap to get rid of wrinkles on the face.  Deja vu.  It wasn’t until I took a close look in the mirror while applying this stuff that I realized how deep my forehead wrinkles were.  It was that same overwhelming feeling of “what’s wrong with me?” that I had at 11 or 12.

When you look for faults in yourself, you’ll find’em.  Stop looking.

Progress in 2 things

Still no query letter back.  It happened to everyone who submitted.  How is this professional living with himself?  Do your stuff, dude.

I wrote a character page for each of my characters, major and a few minor.

The interesting are the protagonist, I hope, Drew Brennan and then eventual roommate, Nikki Benson.

I’m remapping my scenes, and I think the earlier ones will be that much better since I already tried to write them.  Everything is too brief and short and I write how I tell stories–hurry, hurry, hurry–not trusting the reader’s patience.  I need to break that habit–or is that a good unique-ish style to own?  I’ll see what I figure out.

Still unsure as to my point of view.  I don’t want to do first person for more than 2 people, and I think I should just stick with the protagonist.  I considered putting Nikki’s character into first person, but I have my limits.  Plus I don’t think she’s going to be much of a dynamic character.  Interesting, but it isn’t about her developing.

So honestly, stick with first person, right?  It’s about his development and overcoming of an internal conflict.  No need to step outside of his head for that.

The good news is, I’m not thinking of myself while writing this.  It’s less than 20% of me I think.  I took the parts of me and exploded them into exaggerated faults for this character.

As far as getting back to the first draft, it’ll most likely resume next weekend.  I have a busy week with something planned every night until Saturday.  Hope it goes fast.  I want to look up and January to be over, but we still have a few dark weeks left.

I am looking forward to the new class this week though.


Progress was made in ping pong today.  I won 2 games (out of 10?).  I should’ve won two in a row, but I blew a game point while serving.  I played remarkably better though and came close several times.  It’s fun to progress in something newish.  I’ve used the ish suffix a lot today.  I think we should make it standard.

New bloggers won’t be up until around after MLK weekend, but I love how many of you are still posting.  Keep it up please, and I’ll get you some more loyal followers.

Late “work”

I submitted my query letter to today’s speaker at the St. Louis Writers Guild on November 19. I’ve been looking forward to today since then, so I can revise it and resume sending them out in search of a literary agent and then hopefully a publisher.

At the meeting he spoke via Skype, and I was told my query would be returned today. I paid $25 two months ago. He still hasn’t sent anyone’s letters back to them. They’re 3 short paragraphs.

If I got paid $25 to grade a 3-paragraph paper and I had two months to do it, I’d (bleeping) do it!

I wouldn’t want this guy as a literary agent.

First-day exhaustion

I talk a lot.  I talk even on the days I have to go over stuff.  It’s exhausting.  My 6th hour is hyper so that’ll be a challenge at the end of each day.  Other than that, just 4th will need a little more attention.

I called out the student who emailed me on Christmas because he mentioned me not returning his email.  I told him there were about 9 things wrong with that email.  He said to name them…I did.  My new students won’t get to this blog for a couple weeks so it’s still just us.  I asked them to raise their hand if they felt like they were an adult yet.  None did.  Weird.  It’s at 18 kids for now, my third all-time lowest, but I’m expecting 3 or 4 more.  We’ll actually do the I’m From… poems tomorrow after I explain freewriting to them.  And get this, they were all here on time.  I’m not giving them sainthood just yet, I know how it gets.  But the adulting theme is definitely something they seemed up for.  I explained how it would help prevent them from embarrassing themselves in college, life, etc.

I don’t want to work out today.  I will. : /  How was your first day back?

Warming up the room

I don’t have a lot to do right now (us teachers had to return today).  I ran over to Schnuck’s for groceries/lunch.  It’s that diet time of year again so I’ve got a sweet potato going in the microwave.  I bought salad too, but I don’t have any bowels.  I’m low on paper plates too.

On Saturday at the St. Louis Writer’s Guild meeting I’ll get my query letter back.  I’m wondering if he’ll use it as an example (non-example actually) for the meeting’s lesson.  I’ll tweak it, send it out to the remaining sites on my list, wait until spring break, and then self-publish it.  I don’t feel bad.  It’s okay.  It’ll motivate me to keep going.  I’m going to continue my draft this afternoon here.  When I can work on my book at work, it makes it feel like I’m stealing time.  I like that.

I’m trying to come up with some more prompts for freewriting.  Stuff that almost makes the students squirm (almost).  I’m going to set a higher standard on their shared prompts.  No more, “Where would you travel to if you have the choice?” kinda BS.

My hands are obviously warm enough to type, but my feet still feel numb.  And that sweet potato didn’t do squat for me.  : )