Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: DONE DIRT CHEAP by Sarah Nicole Lemon

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.

Tourmaline doesn't have the normal life of a teenager. Her dad is the head of a notorious biker gang, the Wardens, that - even though she's convinced they do nothing but good - the cops take a serious interest in. Even though she's planning on going to college in the fall, she's spending the summer trying to figure out how to smuggle comfy socks to her mom in prison - and she wouldn't even be there if Tourmaline hadn't made the phone call that got her arrested.

Virginia can't claim normal either. She's been working for the questionable lawyer who got her mom off since she was fifteen - her services being accepted for a cash payment her mom couldn't make. Virginia knows how to maneuver people to get what she needs. And now her boss wants her to befriend Tourmaline Harris to find out what's really going on with the Wardens. Because if they're running drugs, he wants to run them out of the business and take it over himself.

Both girls have had it rough, and neither knows how to have a real friend - until they meet each other.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

I have to admit that I'm not very good at eating crow. In that vein, I've got a fun one today. While the origin story I found is somewhat dubious, it's just interesting enough that I wanted to share it with you. 

Supposedly, the phrase "to eat crow," meaning something disagreeable a person faces after they are caught in the wrong (like er... apologizing?) has its roots in the last days of the War of 1812. At that time there was an armistice in effect along the banks of the Niagra River, and during such periods the members of each garrison often went hunting in order to fill the larders. 

During one such hunting trip that proved fruitless, an enterprising Yankee solider cross the river to the British side in search of larger game. Finding nothing, he took a shot at a passing crow. While the bird fell, it also brought the Yankee to the attention of a British officer, who came upon the enemy soldier while he was reloading. The Brit was unarmed, so instead of threatening the Yank he feigned friendliness and amazement at such a great shot and asked to see the gun that had brought down the crow.

The hapless Yank handed it over, and the Brit turned the gun on him, berated him for trespassing and then made him take a bite of raw crow to drive the lesson home. The Brit then returned the gun (whatever else you can say about them, the British have excellent manners) and the Yank in turn aimed it at him and made him finish off the meal.

The incident became public knowledge when the British soldier came to the Yankee garrison the next day to demand that the foot solider be punished for breaking the armistice. When the soldier was brought before his Captain and asked if he'd ever seen the Englishman before he replied, "Why yes, we dined together yesterday."

Is it true? I don't know, but it makes a good story.

And that's almost better, right?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Holly McGhee: A Literary Agent On the Other Side of the Submission Process

If there's one thing that many aspiring writers have few clues about, it's the submission process. There are good reasons for that; authors aren't exactly encouraged to talk in detail about our own submission experiences, and - just like agent hunting - everyone's story is different. I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to

answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest is Holly McGhee, author of MATYLDA BRIGHT & TENDER. What makes this interview particularly interesting to me is that Holly happens to be an agent as well as an author. And not just any agent. Holly is the President and Creative Director of Pippin Properties, so she knew the ins and outs of the industry already. But what was it like being on the other side of the desk?

How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself? 

As a literary agent by trade I knew quite a lot about it, but being the author is completely different. First you have to revise and revise and revise until your agent thinks there’s a decent chance of placing the story . . . and then the book goes out . . . and you have no idea who’s reading it when, if ever . . . and if they are loving / hating it / figuring out how to pass on it without hurting your feelings . . . you feel so exposed, naked really—all these people reading something that you put everything you had into, something so personal, something that you hope resonates . . . these editors are forming an opinion, deciding your fate at that publishing house. It’s the most uncomfortable situation in the world!

Did anything about the process surprise you? 

I was surprised by how difficult it was to try to forget that the manuscript was on submission; I was haunted 24 /7 wondering if somebody would like the story. I felt lucky sometimes that I had a full-time job and three children and a husband and a dog and a leopard gecko to distract myself. But the only time I truly got respite was when I was sleeping or watching The Voice (and that was only on two nights a week . . .)

Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that? 

We tried our best to submit to people I don’t do much business with as an agent / to try to keep it simple that way. So I wouldn’t be calling the editor one day as an author and the next as an author’s advocate . . . We did tons of research on what each editor had acquired and then we read as much as we could about the way they work. I wanted to be sure to work with someone who had enough time to help me make the story as strong as it could be / who was ready to roll up their sleeves with me.

What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors? 

There is no average. We had our first great response in two days (!) but that spoiled us because the entire process took two months . . . I knew enough to try not to get excited till we had a firm offer but it was hard . . . I know how easily everything can fall apart and that a deal’s not a deal till you have the contract . . . wine helped . . . as did working on a new project while waiting. Doing planks helped too—I did them every single night. I thought even if the whole thing implodes I’d have a tight core.

What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety? 

If you can compartmentalize that’s undoubtedly the way to go. I can’t—but I think assuring yourself that it’s going to be over at some point and then committing that no matter what the verdict, you will keep on writing is essential. Surrounding yourself with people who’ve been through it helps a lot; also focusing on anything positive you hear back, even if it’s not an offer—it’s so much easier to think about the negative notes than the positive ones . . . and give yourself permission to be anxious too / I mean here you’ve put your heart out there for the world to see / it’s the hardest thing ever, but you know you’d do it again in a second. 

If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections? 

Reading about other people’s rejections helped / knowing that some of the biggest success stories are novels that only had one offer (and dozens of rejections). For me, what got me through too was knowing that I’d written the best book I was capable of at the time, that I held nothing back, that I offered up the highest level of writing I could do then . . . that makes it a lot easier. The hope is that you’ll always keep growing and improving as a writer, but you have to be able to look in the mirror and say that you gave it all you had.

If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s? 

My beta reader gave me three hundred track changes and tore the book apart . . . what the editor had to say was easy to take after that . . . And as far as rejections, as long as you find somebody who loves your story to pieces, the rejections don’t matter.

When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal? 

I talked to the editors who were interested and then they made their offers . . . I loved them all and so it came down to figuring which editor seemed to love my story and my characters the most . . . you have to rely on your gut, and it’s not always the editor offering the highest advance. The road to publication is so difficult; if you don’t start with absolute love then your foundation’s always shaky.

Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult? 

We were able to share the news immediately and had some pink champagne!!!! The time between selling the book and receiving the editorial letter is precious. You have nothing to do but share your good news . . . it’s the lull before the storm of revising rolls in. Enjoy it!!!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

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.

I don't get why we have to be all uncomfortable in pants and stuff, but squirrels are allowed to just run around naked. How is that fair? I totally bet it's because they don't make squirrel pants. Which I guess isn't the squirrels' fault, but still. I wonder if they did make tiny squirrel pants, would they have to have elastic waists? Because how could the squirrels do like zippers and stuff if they don't have thumbs? Dude, I hate elastic waist pants. That's what Tia Juanita wears with her kitten sweaters, and she hasn't had a date in like six years. So this is definitely funny and I like it, but it's generally not a good idea to open with lines from the actual book. You want to find a way to work this humor into your query, possibly into the hook.

Fifteen-year-old Alonzo Bartolo frequently ponders these and why squirrels don't wear pants, kitten sweaters, and other mysteries of life, especially when he is sitting outside of the principal's office (again) waiting to be disciplined (again). It seems not everyone in Oaxaca is charmed by his lovable scamp persona. As an opener, something like this would work better. It's fitting what an agent expects to see - hook first - and getting the humor into the traditional query format at the same time.

Oswaldo, conversely, is a bowtie-wearing, five-dollar-word-spewing, mostly homeschooled, fifteen-going-on-fifty unabashed nerd-for-life who possesses a charming naiveté and a complete inability to be cool for even five seconds, despite his slight British accent. Cute.

Their Odd Couple-esque friendship solidifies when the first colossal Olmec head discovered in fifteen years is uncovered in nearby Veracruz, causing shocking history surrounding Oswaldo's only living family member, his elderly grandfather and legal guardian, to come to light. This is a very convoluted sentence, break this down. Soon the two boys find themselves--with the help of Alonzo's older sister, Xochitl--racing to find the scattered pages of an ancient Hispanic codex that has the power to stop the Olmec gods from enslaving the people of Oaxaca and Veracruz as they did almost three thousand years ago. I'd cut the mention of the older sister since it's producing a "name soup" situation, and consider limiting you place name mentions to a single one for the same reason. Also, we need to know what the connection between the discovery of the head and the resurrection of the Olmec heads is. 

Can this trio of misfits reassemble the codex before the final colossal heads are uncovered and the Olmec gods regain power? As the author I'm predicting that they will, but you can weigh in on that if you have strong feelings one way or another. Cute, but ending with a question isn't a good idea in general. Honestly I think you can cut this entire para, as you're ending with a good stinger above.

Oswaldo and the Giant Heads is the first in a duology and is complete at 72,000 words. Middle grade and young adult readers Cool... but is this MG or YA? Definitely pick one way or the other, and if you get in front of an agent who feels that it has a better sell chance in a different age range, you can adapt then who enjoy mythology-themed adventures by authors such as Nancy Farmer and Rick Riordan will like this story, as well as immigrant and Latino readers who are eager for stories with relatable characters from this underrepresented region of the Americas.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Signed Giveaway: BAD BLOOD by Demitria Lunetta

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.

Heather can't shake the nightmares. A girl burning to death, and a Celtic knot that she keeps seeing and can't stop herself from carving into her own skin. Therapy helped... kind of, but she still feels anxiety rippling under her skin, not bad enough that she can't hide it though. She has to, if she wants to go to Scotland to visit her aunt for the summer.

Meeting a nice Scottish boy and spending time with good friend should help, but Scotland - with it's long history of witchcraft - actually seems to be making things worse. And Heather can't slip the feeling that the twin girls she keeps dreaming about are connecting to her somehow, and she has to find out before the next cut she makes plunges too deep.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Thoughts - YouTube Style

So I know some of you love my Thursday Thoughts (and some of you could probably care less), but I was really busy last week traveling and being at SEYA Book Festival, so I wasn't having a lot of thoughts other than getting to and from and making sure I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there.

However, there are two YouTube videos from last week that accurately capture how my brain works, and hold a plethora of Thursday Thoughts. Everything from Russian space exploration, to Alien quotes, to sex and explosions (my life is mundane, those two things are usually not related).

First up, a video from a panel with myself, Amy Christine Parker, and Beth Revis. It's a good example of what happens when you have chemistry, dark humor, and tired authors on a panel. Then, I did an interview with my favorite book blogger, Trina, from Between Chapters. It's particularly amusing if you watch it without audio because I'm so physically effusive.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. 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... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

A recent tweet caught my eye in which the tweeter was wondering where the phrase "cry uncle" comes from. In case you don't know, to cry uncle means to admit to the physical superiority of someone attacking you, usually in a bullying situation.

While I can't back it up with any serious proof, there are two really interesting theories I wanted to share with you. Crying uncle didn't appear in written English until 1918, and one theory posits that perhaps the use of the term arises from the Gaelic anacol, meaning "protection" or "safety." There would've been plenty of Irish immigrant children to bully during that time period, and their native cry for help could've been misinterpreted by their English speaking aggressors.

I like that one, but there's a Roman version too. In Ancient Rome, the paternal uncle held nearly as much power over a child as the father. Courtyard games included a physical wrangling in which the loser had to cry, "Patrue, mi Patruissimo!" (Uncle! My favorite Uncle!) in order to be freed. In doing so, they were naming their attacker as a person who had real power over them, and that sign of respect allowed their freedom.

Hmmm... both interesting. But I don't have a paternal uncle, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking those self-defense classes.