Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Casey Lyall On Taking The Time To Revise

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Casey Lyall, debut author of the MG novel HOWARD WALLACE, P.I., coming September 6 from Sterling Children's Books. Casey (5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes, no known aliases) is a middle grade writer from Southwestern Ontario. She works at her local library where she runs a number of teen groups and waits for management to discover they’re actually paying her to have fun. When she’s not writing, Casey loves to bake, watch an “unhealthy” amount of movies and television, and of course, read.

Casey has kindly offered up a copy of HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. as a giveaway, so be sure to check out the Rafflecopter below!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m definitely a planner. The plan is fluid and ends up changing as I go along, but I like to have a frame to work with. It’s like building a house: I like to know how many rooms there’ll be before I start playing with colour swatches.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

The first one took a few months. The second one…longer. Like,‘trying to murderize me’ longer.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

Generally one project at a time, but I keep notes for other projects as I go along. Sometimes an idea hits me when my brain is busy with the current project and I have to write it down so I don’t lose it.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Not really because I’ve always loved writing. That part felt natural. The fear came more with the after-writing stuff: querying, revising for an agent, submission, revising for an editor, etc. As the stakes got bigger, my fear of messing things up increased. But so far it’s working out okay!

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

One delightful (to me) picture book that maybe I’ll revisit someday. I’ve learned a lot since then so it might be fun to go back and noodle with it.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

I haven’t quit on a book yet. My second book has been an interesting process because I had a whole different plot line originally. I spun my wheels for a while before realizing it wasn’t working. I couldn’t progress beyond the first few chapters. Once I figured out what was wrong, I scrapped a bunch of it, melded the rest with another plot idea I had, and things improved from there.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is the lovely Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency and we found each other through the traditional querying process. I read a few interviews with her and felt like she’d be a great match for me so I sent a query. She requested a full requested a full which was mondo exciting. I ended up with a few offers, but I ultimately signed with Molly because we clicked so well.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I did two rounds of querying over a period of about a year. After the first round, I did some serious revision based on feedback from agents and then queried again about six months later. Taking that time to revise made all the difference.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Build your support group. No one is going to understand what you’re going through like another writer will. And giving support to others is just as important as receiving it. There’s nothing like talking an author friend out of a stress spiral to realize that you’re not alone in this sea of feels. Keep learning, keep improving, keep making friends. That’s what will keep you sane.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My publisher was very open to my input. We talked a lot about the cover and I love what we ended up with.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

Oh, man, just how intricate the whole process of making a book is. Getting to see all the behind the scenes work that goes on has totally blown my mind. It’s such a group effort and it’s made the whole process, if possible, even more fun.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve received a ton of support from my publisher, but I try to make sure I’m putting in my own effort as well. I blog with a group of awesome authors on Tumblr. We’re called Kick-Butt Kidlit. I love working on a group blog because it takes a lot of the pressure off. Instead of coming up with new content every week, I only have to post once a month. It makes my life easier. I also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account along with a website. I’ve got some really exciting promotional plans for when my book releases so more on that to come!

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I don’t think anyone should ever feel pressure to build a platform. If you’re not comfortable with social media, don’t engage in it. Your energy is going to be put to better use when you channel it into something you enjoy and gives you energy in return.

That being said, I think you can dive in at any time. There are so many different outlets available. Take your time and figure out which medium works best for you. I personally love Twitter. It’s fun and it’s quick. Other people love Instagram and SnapChat. If you’re happy and comfortable with the site you’re using, that will come through in the content you produce.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think it does if you’re using it properly. Tying back to the previous question – if you’re genuine in your posts and having fun getting to know people online; that will be reflected in your readership. People who use social media to blast spam at their followers will never see a result from that. Think of it as an investment. You have to put in quality in order to see any kind of return. I’ve met some great people online. They provide me with support and encouragement, but I’ve also had the chance to learn about them. For me, it’s all about the community. (So find me on Twitter because I like making new friends!)

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

The Power of Procrastination

There are two things I'm good at.

1) Writing
2) Not Writing

Seriously. I am so awesome at not writing I could write a book about it. Which would be really freaking ironic, wouldn't it?

Today I said I would start the new manuscript, writing at least 1k words, which is my minimum daily word count goal. There were other things I needed to do today too, but since writing is my actual job I needed to consider doing it.

And I would.

After I changed the bedsheets.
Also I needed to write a blog post.
And defrost a whole ham.
And coffee would be good.

I sat down with the coffee and the laptop, the sound of the washer tossing my bedding around in the background. I answered some emails, did some tweeting, realized I didn't brush my teeth yet, and then my dad called.

A tree fell down and he needed another chainsaw handler to get the job done. The tree in question was in my grandpa's yard, and if I didn't go over there, Grandpa (who is 94) would pick up the extra chainsaw himself. Now, honestly, I think that would've worked out just fine (evidence to come), but I'm the kind of person who really enjoys physical labor so I helped chop up a tree in 90+ degrees.

We worked for a few hours, and finally Grandpa decided he was done watching and picked up a 40 pound maul and started splitting wood. Like, really effectively. We're talking single swings. It was impressive.

I was sweaty and smelly and covered in chips and sawdust, but it was time to go home. And who can sit down and write when they smell bad? (Note: I still had not brushed my teeth). So since I was already a mess I decided to do some touch-up painting on the cupboards that we redid in the kitchen, and once I did that I decided since I had the ladder out I might as well spackle the holes in the ceiling from the old lighting.

And since I had the ladder out and it was obvious we were going to have to repaint the ceiling, I might as well take down all the crown molding and wash the ceiling to prep it for painting.

Also I had to go find the paint floor cloths, which someone had peed on (not me, I suspect a cat) and so those had to be washed and hung out on the line with the bedsheets.

So while I was working in the kitchen I spotted that whole ham I set out in the morning to defrost, which I really should consider putting in the oven if we're going to eat tonight. 

And if you're going to make a ham then you might as well (I'm sorry) go whole hog.

So I studded it with cloves and I made a glaze out of apple cider and I put that in the oven.

And then I took a shower, because that was a thing that needed to happen. Also I did finally brush my teeth. So, it's 7PM now. I'm clean. The ham just came out of the oven. The boyfriend is cutting it up and I'm finally writing that blog post I sat down to create at 10 AM.

I did a lot of things today.

I did not start a novel.

I am so good at not writing.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Two years ago, Davinder Jones lost her husband in an accident. Now, at twenty-four years old, Davin has learned no matter how much it sucks, life goes on. I think your hook might be here instead of the opening line you have, which is just a statement of fact. Also, just be sure that the language you use in the query matches the language of the ms. So if "life sucks" is something your MC would say, all is good. If she'd put it more eloquently, use something else. Along with drowning in her grief, she struggles to navigate being a bestselling author and single mother to her twin boys. But even her amazing fresh start cannot replace what she lost, since she refuses to let go of her first love. Fresh start implies that the bestselling author bit came after the death of her husband, if that's the case you might want clarify that just a little. 

Twenty-two-year-old Zachery Blazer would do anything to get un-blackballed from Tinseltown. Hell, he’d even swear off women if it got him a part, and with his reputation— that says something. With his drunk driving escapade no longer front page tabloid news, he jumps at the chance to steal the leading role in the next ‘big’ thing— a bestselling novel film adaptation— and books the part. Hello A-list status, goodbye ladies. This is written fine, but I question whether drunk driving and womanizing would get him blackballed from Hollywood... a reputation, maybe. Blackballed? 

When their paths cross on the backlot, Zach realizes he’s met the one woman worth being with… after declaring no one will come between him and his revived career. Stupid resolution. But if he thinks getting Davin to look his way will be easy, he’s hella wrong. As Zach turns on the charm, she feigns naivety, making the chase after her that much more maddening. If he consumes himself with easy women and cheap liquor, he’ll re-damage his reputation and be back where he started, but he’s not sure he can be sane unless Davin is his. Okay, but on the resolution - wouldn't being with a single mom of twins actually help repair that reputation? Why would being with Davin come between him and the revived career? It doesn't seem like a huge deviation from his resolution, to be with a down to earth, career minded, single mom.

While Zach continues to push the boundaries, Davin knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks into her personal life— and her heart. If she can’t learn to let go, she’ll end up alone. But if she lets Zach in and tells him the truth about her past, she risks him doing what he does best—flaking out, then bolting. And Davin’s heart won’t survive being shattered twice.

THE LUCKIEST is a 78,000 word adult contemporary romance told from the alternating points of view of Davin and Zach. It will appeal to fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s After I Do and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful series.

Honestly I think the query itself is fine, I just am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the content. However, I don't read romances so it's very possible that this is right up that market's alley. Good luck!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: ONE WAS LOST by Natalie D. Richards

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

It's supposed to Sera's senior year experience, not her last one.

When she signs up for a camping trip deep in the Appalachians, Sera is just looking to tick off a requirement for graduation. But when she and her campmates wake up one morning to find one teacher dead and another drugged, it becomes a matter not of graduating, but surviving.

To make matters worse there are mysterious words written on each of the survivors' arms.

Damaged is Sera's bunkmate, a girl with a haunted look and mysterious bruises.
Deceptive is the rich boy who seems to think he's better than the others, even in the middle of nowhere.
Dangerous is for the boy Sera might have feelings for, despite his violent past.
Darling is Sera's own word, inked blackly on her arm.

Each morning brings something worse; bears lured into their campsite, stick dolls dressed as themselves acting out a murder, and their favorite foods packed in a cooler and left for them. Similarities between their situation and a story they thought was only an urban legend become too much to bear, and the countdown outside their tent each morning is winding down to zero.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Talk & Giveaway: The Big Thing by Phyllis Korkki

The Big Thing cover

About The Big Thing

Hardcover: 256 pages Publisher: Harper (August 9, 2016)

A New York Times business journalist explains why itís important for people to pursue big creative projects, and identifies both the obstacles and the productive habits that emerge on the path to completionóincluding her own experience writing this book.

Whether itís the Great American Novel or a groundbreaking new app, many people want to create a Big Thing, but finding the motivation to get started, let alone complete the work, can be daunting. In The Big Thing, New York Times business writer and editor Phyllis Korkki combines real-life stories, science, and insights from her own experience to illuminate the factors that drive people to complete big creative projectsóand the obstacles that threaten to derail success.

In the course of creating her own Big Thing - this book - Korkki explores the individual and collaborative projects of others: from memoirs, art installations, and musical works to theater productions, small businesses, and charities. She identifies the main aspects of a Big Thing, including meaningful goals, focus and effort, the difficulties posed by the demands of everyday life, and the high risk of failure and disappointment. Korkki also breaks down components of the creative process and the characteristics that define it, and offers her thoughts on avoiding procrastination, staying motivated, scheduling a routine, and overcoming self-doubt and the restrictions of a day job. Filled with inspiring stories, practical advice, and a refreshing dose of honesty, The Big Thing doesn't minimize the negative side of such pursuits - including the fact that big projects are hard to complete and raise difficult questions about one's self-worth.

Inspiring, wise, humorous, and good-natured, The Big Thing is a meditation on the importance of self-expression and purpose.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

My thoughts:

I don't typically read a lot of books on or about writing, because I often find myself disagreeing with what I find in them. I often tell people that write every day is the worst writing advice I've ever heard, because I feel that it alienates creatives who don't have that kind of drive (not to mention drive), and therefore feel like there's no point in trying if they can't write every day.

So when I saw the the title of this book above creativity included the words lazy, self-doubting and procrastinator, I thought. "Okay this one looks like it's a little more my style." While I'm definitely not lazy, I think just about any creative can relate to the other two terms.

Korkki does a wonderful job of addressing our modern society and how small, easily digestible bursts of creativity (think viral videos) are so quickly rewarded - but also so quickly die out and are forgotten, replaced by the next "small thing." She addresses the long arc of our "big thing" - be it a novel, recording an album, or finally pulling that sculpture out of your mind and onto the marble - and how to incorporate that overall arc into your daily life in small doses that can add up.

Another chapter I enjoyed regarded the transformation of suffering - be it physical or mental illness, grief, or addiction - into creativity. She addressed how the dark moments in our life can be utilized as a spawning pool for our imagination, and hopefully the resulting creativity or project can bring some meaning to those moments beyond our pain.

However my absolute favorite part of the book was where she tackled the gaping possibility of giving up on your "big thing." She asks hard questions about our motivations for whatever our "big thing" is, be they intrinsic or extrinsic, and whether or not, in the end, we believe we can succeed - and how we will define and measure that success. 

It's typical in the creative world to tell one another to never give up, that if you just keep going you will succeed. I think this does more harm than good - to the aspiring and to their relationships. Korkki takes a much more realistic view of asking - why are you doing this? 

There were a few chapters I wasn't as interested in, such as one about how to breathe properly and how posture can affect your creativity, but I can see how others might find it useful. Overall I think it's a good read to consider for anyone who needs some reinforcement (or a reality dose) about their Big Thing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

The suggestion for today's WOLF came from my crit partner, RC Lewis. I was stumped a couple of weeks ago on what to WOLF about when she asked me where the term jaywalker comes from. Great question. And by the way - you guys can ask me stuff, too!

While jaywalking is a fairly laughable crime, it is in fact not legal to cross the street anywhere other than a crosswalk, or to cross against a traffic signal. Americans might have a laugh at it, but I actually did see a jaywalker get clocked when I was in Paris. Don't eff with the French.

Is it really that dangerous to jaywalk? While our speed limits and congested streets keep things pretty safe for footers, it hasn't always been this way. The first instance of the use of jaywalker was from the Chicago Tribune in 1909 (although it didn't make the dictionary until 1917). Back in 1909, people were adjusting to even having cars in the streets, and speed limits were a thing of the future. Horses and buggies kept a pretty calm pace, except when a horse flipped it's lid - and if it did, a sign saying, "Hey, not so fast, Mr. Horse," wasn't going to stop him.

So city streets in the early 1900's were actually pretty dangerous. Motorists pretty much did as they pleased - which made horses and buggy drivers mad - and pedestrians pretty much kept doing what they'd been doing... crossing the street wherever they felt. And while that might fly with Black Beauty, Mr. Model T didn't necessarily have the stop-on-a-dime that we do today - or a speed limit to tell him not to go so fast in the first place.

City dwellers caught on pretty fast - cross on the crosswalk or at your own peril. But newbies to the city and skyline gazers wandered into the road fairly often, earning the ire of those behind the wheel. At the time, rural folk and country dwellers were often called jays, thus anyone inexperienced in crossing a city street and foolish enough to walk in front of cars were... jaywalkers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Debut Author Tom Crosshill On The Meeting Point of Personal Passion & Public Interest

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the blog is a seriously interesting person. Originally from Latvia, Tom Crosshill moved to the US as a teen and now lives wherever his adventures take him. A black belt in aikido, he has operated a nuclear reactor, worked on Wall Street, and toiled in a Japanese zinc mine, among other things. You can see why I like Tom.

Tom’s fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award (thrice), the Latvian Literature Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. He has won the Writers of the Future Award. In 2013, and was a resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa — where he started THE CAT KING OF HAVANA. To find out more about Tom’s fiction — and to read some of his short stories — visit his website.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

As with most of my projects, CAT KING was born at the intersection of several inspirations:

-- Being a passionate salsero, I did a dance movie marathon one day and realized most were kind of bad. Entertaining, sure, but not particularly nuanced or true to life. I was inspired to write a dance story which, while fun and fast-paced, would also make dancers go -- yes, that's what it's like! (I also wanted non-dancers to go -- now I want to learn to dance!)

-- I was a nerdy non-athletic kid and it sucked. I wanted to help others in my position develop the confidence to get out of their shell and try some physical activities. More, I wanted to help kids discover the strength and passion required to keep going even in the face of the inevitable struggles and failures and setbacks. The story of a cat video geek who gets it into his head to learn salsa seemed like just the ticket!

-- I wanted to go back to Cuba, an island that has fascinated me since my first trip there, but I couldn't afford to. I figured writing a story set in Cuba would be just as good -- and would help my readers visit too!

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I'm a big believer in structure -- in stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, with particular functions and requirements for each part. Before I sit down to write a word, I need to know what challenges will be set up for the protagonist in the beginning, how these will evolve through the middle, and what resolution the protagonist will (or will not) find by the end. 

With CAT KING, I had the story of Rick Gutierrez, a cat video tycoon who becomes obsessed with salsa dancing -- and with Ana Cabrera, this smart & cute girl he meets (beginning). 

Following both obsessions takes him to his mother's native country Cuba, where he discovers that love and dance are both a lot more difficult than he ever imagined (the middle). 

Then (the end) Rick comes face to face with Voldemort and must destroy the seven. . . oops, wrong book there. I guess I won't be spoiling the ending of CAT KING after all!

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Absolutely, this happens a lot -- in fact, I believe that it should, otherwise you're not writing a living, breathing story but executing a construction blueprint. With CAT KING, I discovered a lot of layers I hadn't anticipated including in the story initially (such as the mystery of Rick's mother's past and the anti-government struggles of his cousin Yolanda). In your head, the novel is a shimmering ghost of a thing, full of promise but insubstantial. As you sweat and hack and struggle through the arduous process of dragging the story across the imagination/reality boundary line, you discover all sorts of unexpected wonders. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas as such come to me often, but ideas I burn to write about come by only once in a while. I know other authors have dozens of ideas they'd love to write at any given time, but I don't. I'd rather go dancing or do a business deal or read a book than write about an idea I'm only moderately interested in. I'll work to put together something that electrifies me and then get to work. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Because of the reasons I mentioned above, this is typically not a problem for me. But generally I tend to look for the intersection of passion and public interest. Between two ideas that I'm equally excited about, I'll pick the one that I think more people will love reading about.

I recently got stitches in my arm and was taking mental notes the entire time about how I felt before, during, and after the process of being badly injured. Do you have any major life events that you chronicled mentally to mine for possible writing purposes later?

Sure -- pretty much everything, every day, from the time I broke my jaw to the time I watched Lehman Brothers go bust in real time on a trading floor, to that one time I was overcharged for a pound of chicken at the grocery store. I try to reassure acquaintances by noting that my characters are always compositions of several real life figures, seasoned liberally with imagination. Similarly, I don't lift scenes one for one but mix and match. But certainly, every mortifying conversation, every sublime experience of beauty and joy, every hilarious mistake, every medical struggle, every sweet little daily moment gets stored away for later retrieval.