Art in Action

Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

“Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. Those who have the gift of creative expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality of others to those others. In participating in the work of art, they become artists in their activity. They learn to know and honor individuality in whatever form it appears. The fountains of creative activity are discovered and released. The free individuality which is the source of art is also the final source of creative development in time.”
—John Dewey

The art we create can be a catalyst, a tipping point, or even a spark to a flame inside of those in our community. The community just needs to experience our art. That is why I think it is important for artists to collaborate with each other. It is why I think that it is important for artists to collaborate with folks and organizations doing community-minded work. We can’t wait for the call from them for a commissioned piece or an invitation to share at an event. We know the impact art can have. We should seek them out for partnership. To envision something larger than an accent on a moment. To build something deeper.

There are people in the community doing great work on the ground. Hunt for them. Reach out. Go check out something on their calendar. See if they are a fit for you. If not, then check for the next group, organizer, or organization. If you can’t find anything, mine your network. See if anyone knows of folks. Even if they are in a neighboring area, they can often tell you who is working in your city. They can sometimes give you insight into the history of that work in your community and why there isn’t anyone doing that work now. A lot of times someone was doing it and something happened. That can be helpful to know. If any of those folks are still in town, then you might want to meet them and see what is possible. There is a story there.

Sometimes we feel like we have a sense of what is going on, but many of these folks don’t have huge marketing budgets. Many work under the radar. They may not be known but they have an impact. The work they do matters to who they serve and they are committed day in and day out. They could benefit from working with us, having art at their disposal. We could benefit from working with them and placing our art with folks who need it. The community will benefit from seeing the issue in a new way and hearing new stories. There is so much potential there.

The anger, frustration, hurt, and bitterness that folks face in these times are real. There are those moments we scream out for a collective “we,” and I get it. It’s a rallying cry. It’s a disruption to the bubble we can get caught in navigating our own lives. It is one of the reasons that demonstrations still have a place in our society. It is a gathering place for folks who feel the same heaviness. I say that art activities and events are also gathering places. A place for those who feel the same heaviness. Not only that, but it is also a place to gather and remember joy, resilience, and overcoming. It is a place for dreams and affirmations, celebration, and remembrance. It can be an inspiration or a call to action.

Partners are waiting to work with you. They just don’t know how to make it happen. We don’t have to wait until they figure it out. We can reach out. We can let them know we are willing to sit at the table and figure out it together. You have a gift, they have an understanding, and you both have a purpose. You see and feel what the people around you are going through. It is in the art you create. They see and work in the midst of what the people around them are going through. It is in their hearts to affect change.

They can use your help. So find the folks you want to work with. Dig in. Remember self-care. Remember balance. Remember that you are deserved of saying “yes” and “no.”

A lot of times we see a need and a possibility and either try to put something together ourselves. Sometimes we are paralyzed by the fact that we aren’t in a position to do the thing. You don’t have to be the one to pull it all together. You can take your thoughts to folks and build collaboration. You are going to find folks who can see what you envision, place it in the right context, and help execute it effectively.

That’s a way to build the collective “we” that we need to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be all at once. It doesn’t have to be at our expense of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be grand and expansive. It just has to happen. Every step is part of a march toward the tomorrow we want to see.

I see it. We can do it. Let’s take this art out and help shape the world.

Dasan Ahanu

Recap of 2022 and Parting Thoughts

What a lovely and productive year it’s been! I’ve so enjoyed getting to meet you, and we’ve had a great mix of live and online events for our 2022 Piedmont Laureate programming.

A great big thank you to our sponsoring organizations: Raleigh Arts, United Arts Council, Durham Arts Council, and Orange County Arts Commission. Without these fabulous groups, the Piedmont Laureate program would not exist. Check out their websites, and if you’re interested in following the Piedmont Laureate program and/or learning more about terrific arts programming in our area, consider signing up for their email newsletters.

Throughout our journey together this year, we’ve explored story beginnings, middles, and endings. We have considered the writing life and what makes a powerful story. We have dug deep into how to revise a manuscript until it shines. We’ve talked about crafting an immersive story world. We’ve strategized about setting writing goals and overcoming the obstacles life puts in our way.

Some highlights from the blog:

We’ve chatted about what makes an effective title:

We’ve explored different ways to plan your story:

We’ve learned about fiction genres:

If you’re working with beta readers, here are some questions to ask them:

What happens when you hit a wall? I offer some tips here:

As I reflect on our year together, I’ve been particularly impressed with your engagement.  You have shown up ready to learn, to write, to be inspired, and to share your wisdom with others. Together we have reached writers embarking on self-publishing and others seeking agent representation toward a traditional publishing deal—and writers from all walks of life with diverse interests and experiences.

Your range is broad, and wow, you have such fascinating ideas for books! We have talked about fantasy novels, mysteries, stories born from real life, romance, young adult, literary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, children’s fiction, thrillers, suspense, crime fiction, inspirational fiction, short stories, and more.

Your life experiences are unique. Your journey thus far may have been full of ups and downs, twists and turns. And here you are—you have arrived at this present moment. The moment might not be perfect, but you’re here and you’re ready.

You’re a writer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published or won awards or taken a class. Toss all those “have to’s” or “should haves” or “somedays” to the side for a minute. Say it with me: I’m a writer.

You’re the best person to tell whatever story you want to tell. When you hit a snag or write yourself into a corner or lose your momentum, come back to this guiding principle. What’s the reason you want to tell this story?

Yes, writing can be a tough business. Rejection is part of the game. When you get discouraged, I urge you to keep going. You’re the best person to tell this story. And we need your story.

Let’s stay in touch! Here’s where you can find me:


Hierarchy of Agent Responses

photo credit: Angelina Litvin via Unsplash

You’re out there querying – good for you! What can you expect in terms of agent responses?

First, remember that it might take a while to hear back. A good long while. Agents are super busy. Most, if not all, spend the bulk of their day negotiating deals for their current clients’ projects, submitting proposals, reviewing client manuscripts and suggesting revisions, dealing with royalty statements, etc. They review queries in batches when they have a bit of extra time, often on the nights and weekends.

Understanding that the process is not a quick one, here’s a range of what you might expect:

An agent might request your full manuscript. This means you have piqued their interest with your query and, depending on their submission guidelines (you’re following their submission guidelines, right?), your sample pages. Congratulations! This is a good start. It doesn’t mean you will receive an offer of representation, but it’s good to celebrate every ounce of progress.

Once the agent has read your full manuscript, they may request a call with you. Get excited! A call usually means an offer of representation is coming, or perhaps an “R&R,” which is a request to revise the manuscript and resubmit it.

An agent might request a partial, meaning a certain number of pages or chapters of your manuscript. Again, this is a good sign. If they like the partial, they might subsequently request the full manuscript.

An agent might respond with a form rejection. Don’t be offended; it’s a common practice. Remember how busy they are?

An agent might respond with a personalized rejection. It’s nice of them to take the time to do this, and you may respond with a simple “thank you” if you are so inclined.

An agent might not respond to your query at all. An unfortunate truth: usually, a failure to respond equals a rejection. 

Let’s get this out of the way too: a rejection is of your manuscript, not you.

As you wait, don’t sit around stressing and constantly refreshing your inbox. Go ahead and start on your next project. Keep going. You’ve got this.

The year is fast coming to a close. But I’d love to stay in touch! You can find me:

A Bookish Tradition

Photo credit Kimberly Farmer via Unsplash

Around this time of year, I start to get pretty serious about holiday shopping for my friends, relatives, and loved ones. I wanted to share something I’ve been doing the last several years.

Throughout the year, I read quite a bit, usually a novel or story collection every 3-4 days. By November or so, I’m thinking about my favorites of the year. I usually share on social media and with my bookish friends my top 5 reads of the year. This doesn’t necessarily mean the books were published this year, just that I read them this year.

I try to pick one top favorite. Then I go to my local independent bookstores–shout out to Page 158 Books and Quail Ridge Books–and I buy copies of that book for my bookish friends as my holiday gift to them.

I love supporting local businesses and sharing with my friends why I loved the book.

It’s always a bonus when, throughout the following year, a bookworm friend lets me know whether they have (or have not) enjoyed the book. Bookish chats make my day!

How about you? Any bookish holiday traditions?

We are nearing the end of my Laureate term (sob…) and I’ve love to stay in touch!

You can find me:





Re-querying with Revised Work

Photo credit Retro Supply via Unsplash

Should you re-query an agent with a revised manuscript?

We’ve talked before—and there’s a lot of chatter on the internet—about how hard it is to get a literary agent. These days, agents are receiving hundreds of queries a week from aspiring writers. One question that comes up: is it permissible to re-query an agent with a revised manuscript?

The scenario we’re talking about: you’ve queried agents with your manuscript, The Lost Balloon, and haven’t received any offers.

In the meantime, you’ve been working hard, and you have revised The Lost Balloon. A substantial revision, you say. You’d like to reach out to agents whom you’ve already queried. After all, you’ve done your homework, and they’re still well-respected agents who represent projects like yours.

The essential question is whether your revision is actually substantial. Courtney Maum in her Substack newsletter “Before and After the Book Deal,” puts it this way:  “If I part my hair to the right, and show up to work one day parting it to the left, that is not a substantial change. If I cut all of my hair off, or dye it an entirely different color, those are visible and higher-level changes. But if your manuscript is going to show itself at an agent’s desk again, it needs to be so unrecognizable, it’s not about a different haircut—your manuscript has on a different head.”

A change in POV from first person to third person? Not substantial for purposes of this scenario (although plenty of tedious work… ask me how I know…).

Switching the setting from a rural area in West Virginia to a rural area in Kentucky? Not substantial.

Converting a slow-paced, pensive literary story to a pulse-pounding thriller? There you go. This would be considered a substantial change.

Subject to agency guidelines, which you should always double-check, if your revision fits this definition, if it will sound like a new and different book, then go for it. Re-query those agents. I’m cheering you on—I hope to see The Lost Balloon at an independent bookstore or library someday!

Halloween Writing Prompts

Does your main character believe in ghosts? Why or why not? Have you ever taken a ghost tour? (I’ve been on ghost tours in Charleston and Savannah, but I’m not sure I enjoyed them, to be honest. I don’t necessarily gravitate toward a creepy or spooky atmosphere.)

What was your main character’s favorite Halloween costume when they were growing up? Why? Was the costume home-made or from a store? Did they copy their friends or were they unique?

Does your story involve a neighborhood? Is it the type of neighborhood that comes together for holidays like Halloween? Maybe they have a parade to show off the children’s costumes. Or is something sinister underfoot?

What’s the best Halloween candy? (Skittles get my vote. I know, I’m weird… If Skittles aren’t available, I’ll take Jelly Bellies.) The worst? (Come on, it has to be circus peanuts. Or black licorice. Or anything with coconut. Or Twizzlers.)

A black cat saunters by. Does your main character flinch, wondering if bad luck is on the way? Entice the kitty closer with a saucer of milk?

Would love to hear any thoughts / comments below. Thanks for reading!

Happy writing! I’m cheering you on.