Grace Above All


This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re all about how to interact with an agent or editor. I’m starting with a couple observations that are firmly embedded in my head.

There's a theory that you have to write a million words before you write something publishable.

“Anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his life.” ― Flannery O'Connor. Well I’ve managed to do both, the first 1.5 times, the second barely and with the assistance of multiple angels

I have never had an agent, although I’ve queried several, and chatted with more at various conferences. As for editors, I’ve been one for several other aspiring authors, but have never had one of my own on a formal basis. Part of that is my natural sense of paranoia, honed over the years by tales from others about what problems they’ve encountered. I by no means want to imply that the majority of editors fall into that category, I’m just channeling that long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Mom at a Garden Writers of America conference

However, I do have/had people I trust who have been willing to read and edit my work. When my mother A. Carman Clark ( was alive, we frequently talked about writing and looked over each other’s work. One of her best Friends, Marilis Hornidge was ascerbic and wise, so I listened carefully when she talked about writing,. Likewise another of her contemporaries, mystery writer J.S. Borthwick. It was from her that I learned to create the physical world/town/realm to be as much a character as the people or creatures in a tale.

As a librarian, even in retirement, I have one truth-Librarians know everything. It’s a deceptive truism in that we know ‘stuff’, but more importantly, we recognize what we don’t, and generally have the skills to find it. I also know there’s only one stupid question-the one you’re too embarrassed to ask.

My first published book, The Wizard of Simonton Pond, was far from ready for publication, but it took years before I realized that. In the interim, I wrote another ten (all but one unpublished), and while doing so, I listened carefully, learning in the process that being respectful and attentive allowed other, wiser writers to share things I’ve pondered and internalized.

Another thing that has helped me become a better writer has been reading between 200-300 books a year and reviewing all of them. Not only has that sharpened my sense of what works in a plot, but it’s a thank you to authors who deserve an accolade for creating something worth reading.

Sister Kate on the firing range with members of the Miramichi, New Brunswick police department while researching her book Death Dealers

My current go-to person is my sister, Kate Clark Flora ( ) who has 25 or so books published in the mystery, romantic suspense, and true-crime genres. When she has something ready for beta readers, I’m always willing to read it and point out what I would fix. She does the same for my work, and best of all (despite several failed attempts to do her in when we were kids, but that’s a confession for another time), I trust her judgment. We have the same reciprocity when it comes to short stories.

My methods aren’t suitable for everyone, but they’re ones that feel comfortable and right. What/who do you trust?


  1. There's just nothing quite like those one-on-one conversations with a fellow writer, especially writers who are close to us (like your mom).


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