Wednesday, December 7, 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Since I'm returning to the gym this week after a month of traveling, I thought I'd dig up some figures of speech that have their roots in sports.

Boxing started out as a prize-fighting at European fairs with no officials. The rules were pretty simple - if you were knocked down or had to be dragged out of the ring due to being unconscious... you lost. Hence a nasty scuffle is called a knock-down drag-out.

Boxing has given us a lot of fun terms, another one being that (once they decided to start using an official of some sort) the presiding person began the fight by dropping their hat to the ground, which told the fighters it was time to start swinging. These days when something unpleasant comes about quickly, it happened at the drop of a hat.

I've actually heard that term used more often in reference to someone losing their temper - "He gets mad at the drop of a hat." And that makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

What about our lovely American past time? I found something interesting I wanted to share that I personally suffer from - the lovely malady called a charley horse. Anyone who suffers from these muscle spasms in the legs knows that they hurt like a @#)*3@#$ and kind of leave you wanting to cry in a puddle and possibly pee yourself. But why the heck is a muscle spasm called a charley horse? No one is really sure, but there are a couple of ideas, both originating with baseball.

Pitcher Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourne suffered from these paralyzing leg cramps. He played for the Buffalo Bisons (1880), Providence Grays (1881–1885), Boston Beaneaters (1886–1889), Boston Reds (1890), and Cincinnati Reds (1891). Post MLB Radbourne lost an eye in a hunting accident and then died of syphilis, so it's safe to say that leg cramps were the least of his concerns.

For some reason I like this story better: In the 1890's the White Sox of Chicago used a horse named Charley to draw the grass rollers across the field. He suffered from a limp, so the fans called any player afflicted with the spasm (which causes you to limp afterwards) a "Charley Horse."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Middle Grade Author Virginia Zimmerman Shares 5 Tips For Conquering Query Hell

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Virginia Zimmerman, author of THE ROSEMARY SPELL. As a child Virginia enjoyed writing and talking to friends about books, so she decided to grow up into a person who could do those things all the time. She eventually became an English professor at Bucknell University. Most of the classes she teaches are about British literature of the nineteenth century or children’s fiction from the nineteenth century to today.

Don't miss the giveaway below!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I am definitely a planner, though I’ve discovered in recent years that sometimes I do my best work when circumstances force me out of my comfort zone and into pantster position. That said, I can only pants (is that a verb?) if a plan is out there somewhere, like a safety net.

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

Kids always ask this question when I do school visits, and it’s really hard to answer. What counts as starting? Is it when I have the first glimmer of an idea? When I have the plot outlined? When I first put words on the page? And what counts as finishing? Completing a draft? Sending the manuscript to my agent? Holding the published book in my hand? 

If the process begins when I have an idea and ends when the book is published, then the process takes me several years. If we’re only talking about actual writing time, I can sometimes write a full draft in just a month or so, but then it needs a lot of work. From first draft to final revision, I’d say it takes about a year.

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

I work on multiple projects at a time, but they are in very different stages. For instance, right now, I have three projects in process: I am revising a nearly-finished manuscript for my agent, and I am also making notes and brainstorming plot ideas for a new book; as soon as I send the manuscript off, I will start revising a different book that is drafted. My preference is to have two projects going at once—one at a writing stage and one in the idea stage. Three is a bit much!

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

The first time I sat down to write, I didn’t take myself seriously, so it wasn’t scary at all. By the time I realized I was actually writing a real book, I was already in the middle of doing it. What was more frightening was sitting down to write my second book. I was terrified that I only had one book in me. It was a great relief to discover second, third, and fourth books, each clambering to get out onto the page.

Did you trunk any projects before you were agented?

I got my first agent with my first book, which ended up getting published in Barcelona, Spain. La Finestra del Temps (Cru├»lla 2012)—in English, A Window in Time--is set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, so it was particularly well-suited for the market there. However, that book and its sequel have not yet found an American home. They are trunked… for now.

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

I have never quit a manuscript, but I have completely rewritten, scrapping plot lines and characters. The book I’m finishing now was originally from a different character’s point of view. I wrote the whole book and thought it was finished. All my beta readers, including my 11-year-old son, said, “Don’t you think this other person should be the main character?” I knew they were right, so I opened a blank document and started over.

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

My agent is Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary. I signed with her recently after rising up from the slush pile via the traditional query process. My first agent was George Nicholson who passed away in 2015. I found my way to him through the alumni network of my undergrad institution, Carleton College. In a recent blog post, I described my agent story in detail. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

To get my first agent, I queried about a year. My second took only six months. The first time, I sent out queries in batches of five. As soon as I received a rejection, I sent out a replacement query. In a weird way, this made rejections feel like good news because I got to send out another query, so rejection was immediately replaced with hope. 

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

1. Keep writing. If you’re just waiting to hear back, then the process really is hellish, but if you keep moving forward, then querying becomes just an annoying buzz in the background.

2. Take solace in reading about how many rejections were received by people whose work you admire. 

3. Don’t try to read between the lines of rejections. Chances are the language is boiler plate. 

4. Don’t stalk agents on Twitter and try to figure out if their tweets are secretly about you, but do read #MSWL to know which agents may be especially interested in your work.

5. Understand that time in publishing moves at a glacial pace. Chances are you will wait and wait and wait over and over again throughout the process. You will wait for responses from agents. You will wait for responses from editors. And even when there is a contract and everything is all done, you will wait months and months for the book to actually come out. You just have to make peace with this pace. But, this doesn’t mean YOU should move at a glacial pace. See #1 above: Keep writing!

How did it feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

It was amazing! I felt really silly taking pictures of my book for sale at my local bookstore, but I did it anyway. Sometimes friends in faraway places send me pictures of my book in stores, and it always gives me joy to know the book is out there.

At the same time, there’s something unsettling about the book being out in the world. It means it doesn’t really belong to me anymore. It belongs to its readers, who find in it things I never noticed and make it their own. At my book launch, I likened the experience to pushing a bird out of the nest. The book flies off and makes its own way.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Absolutely none, but Clarion did a brilliant job with the cover of The Rosemary Spell. It’s like a magic spell that makes people want to pick up the book. I couldn’t be happier with it.

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

I was surprised that it was difficult to get my second agent. I thought that with a book out, a book that was well-received and has sold well, it would be easy to find a new agent. Instead, I basically started from scratch. In a way, I am grateful for the process since it led me to Bridget. If I had just signed on with the friend of a friend, I’m not sure I’d be so pleased with the match.

How much of your own marketing do you?

I have a blog on my website where I also post interviews and general information for my readers. I also have an author Facebook page, and I’m on Twitter and Instagram. I try to post pretty regularly, but I’m not nearly as prolific in the world of social media as many authors are.

I’ve gotten the most visibility from articles I’ve written for web sites that get a lot of traffic. I had a piece on mentor texts in Writer’s Digest, and I wrote an op-ed for Fox News Online about the value of re-reading. A lot of people read these and then became interested in The Rosemary Spell.

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

I didn’t build my platform until I had my first agent. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. Some people get energy from the conversations they have on social media, so it’s worth the effort. For other people, maintaining these various accounts is draining. I put as much into social media as I can, and I don’t feel any pressure to do more.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

My books are middle grade, and those readers aren’t really on Twitter or Facebook much. I think social media is more useful for building relationships with other authors and with teachers and librarians. For a children’s author, those relationships are really important, and I am happy to invest time and energy into keeping up conversations with those folks. 

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And lastly, I put a lot of work into the blog. If you think I deserve a coffee, I'll drink it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

In Which My Life Comes Full Circle

The summer before I started high school I participated in the ELCA's (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Lutheran Youth Gathering. This was in 1994, and the location for the "2 Be Alive" themed gathering that lasted for an entire week was Atlanta, Georgia. There were 30,000 of us there, with many of the events taking place at the Georgia World Congress Center. It was my first time flying on a plane, my first time in a big city, the first time I ever drank New Coke.

The following fall I entered 8th grade and my English teacher asked me if I wanted to try my hand at writing a short story for the NCTE (National Council of English Teachers) Promising Young Writers Program. I said sure and wrote about Thanksgiving from the point of view of a carrot - which you can read in its entirety here. That short received a superior writing certificate, making it the only thing I was going to win with my writing for a very, very long time.

Both of these things occurred in 1994, when I was 14 years old.

I returned to Atlanta - and the Georgia World Congress Center - last month at the age of 37 to be a guest author and panelist at ALAN/NCTE.

In the intervening years I've flown on a ton of planes and been in a lot of cities - I've even won a few more writing awards (though I've avoided New Coke.) Being back in the Georgia World Congress Center and seeing the NCTE logo everywhere (I still have my letter of recognition, that logo stamped upon my psyche as proof that yes I CAN do this), really threw me back to being fourteen.

Most writers will tell you that we never really feel like we've made it. There's always an event you weren't invited to, a distinction you haven't received, a sales goal you haven't met. I'm happy to walk up to just about anyone and introduce myself (ask Maggie Stiefvater) but that doesn't mean I don't get starstruck, or worry that after I say, "Hi, I'm Mindy McGinnis," they will blankly say, "Who?"

I think that humility is good, personally. If I ever think I'm the best in the room it means that I'm no longer improving. And I'll be the first to tell you that awards, sales, and contracts don't shush that little voice in your head when you sit down to write that says, "This time you're going to fail."

But this past November in Atlanta I felt pretty good about who I was, and how I got there.

Which means it's time for a new challenge.

Saturday, December 3, 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.

Seventeen-year-old Emile Dodgson is in an asylum with only a vague memory of who he had been before and no knowledge of why he is there. If you read this aloud the little word phrases "is in an" and "who he had been" can get a little tripped up. I would advise rephrasing every so slightly, such as Seventeen-year-old asylum resident Emile has no memory of who he is, or why he is there. Otherwise this is a good hook, just be aware of those little connectors that make your brain have to parse as your read With the help of his doctor, Emile tries to patch together the memories he does possess. As these fragmented memories begin to come back, Emile wonders if he truly does want to remember his disturbing past. Highlighting in yellow some echoes - you've got three in one para here. Not necessarily a huge red flag, but it might make the agent wonder if the ms is littered with such problems. It's a nit-pick, but that's what I'm here for.

Two years earlier, Emile looks forward to leaving school and beginning his apprenticeship with his father, a hatter in the late 1860s Oxford. When Emile meets Alice Smalls, the daughter of a prominent watch maker, he feels his life is clicking into place with a precision he’d never dared to dream for. You've got some great imagery at work here - "clicking into place" alongside the watch mention, for example. However, this is slightly confusing as it seems these events precede your hook. I'm assuming that this story is what the doctor pieces together from his memories, and that your story isn't told linearly, instead alternation between his sessions and the past, correct?

Soon, Emile notices the same symptoms in himself that plagued his father and claimed the life of his grandfather. He can’t always explain the disturbing images he sees or sounds he hears. He hopes his love for Alice will be enough to protect him from going insane, but as Emile spirals further into madness his behavior becomes more and more unsettling to those who care for him.

Drawing imagery from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this standalone book tells the real story of the Mad Hatter’s descent into madness. ALICE AND THE HATTER is a 70,400 word young adult historical fiction told in alternating chapters between Emile and Alice. Wait! Alice has a POV? That needs mentioned as more than an aside down here. It should get half of the query, if it gets half of the book.

I’m a youth services librarian with over ten years of experience working with teens. (Nice, this was pretty much my bio when I was querying too - it helps!)

Overall, this is pretty damn great. The actual writing here is good and the premise is awesome, but the execution makes me curious about the setup of the text. Is it merely bookended with Emile already in the asylum (a la THE GREEN MILE) or do his chapters go back and forth between the present and the past? Needs to be clear within the query. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: CARVE THE MARK by Veronica Roth

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.

In their world everyone is tapped into the current, a force that gives each person a unique gift. Cyra's is to cause pain - both to herself and others - something that her brother, Ryzek, the cruel ruler of Shotet, revels in. Though she knows and respects the culture of every planet in their system, she is known throughout the universe as someone to be feared.

Akos is from Thuve, a peace loving nation where his mother is much respected as one of the great oracles. Though his currentgift seems odd - he can cancel other people's gifts - it's extremely useful to Cyra, to take away her daily pain and torture. Also, one of the Oracle's children will be the next oracle, and Ryzek would rather take that power for himself using his currentgift, than rely on someone else to tell him the future.

Kidnapped for these abilities, Akos is installed as Cyra's companion. He's ready to hate her, and she him. They're both very surprised when something blooms between them instead.

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 on winning.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately come to your from a bout with insomnia...

1) When I can't sleep I have the double-edged guilt of looking at the clock and thinking, "I'm not going to get up at a decent hour at this point" to thinking, "I might as well get up now because it's practically morning and then I'm an early riser."

2) If I fall asleep with my ear bent over even for a few minutes, the agony will last forever.

3) When I do mange to grab a few minutes sleep on these nights, I usually get extremely odd visuals. Last time it was a human-sized Furrby who was a much-in-demand court recorder because he could multitask and do one machine with each foot.

Wednesday, November 30, 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. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Everybody likes a little privacy sometimes, right? People figured out a long time ago that putting high posts on each end of your bed and hanging curtains from them served as a protection from draft, and also kept the overly-inquisitive at bay. A lot of the conversations that went on behind these sheets were of a private nature- be they emotional exchanges, family secrets, or just good old gossip. If you wanted to keep something on the down low, you told you listener it was between you, me, and the bedpost.

But that one's kinda obvious isn't it? You want something a little less so? OK, I can do that.

A long while ago it was fashionable for men to wear removable shirt cuffs. Barkeeps used to keep a patron's running tab written on their cuff for safekeeping, then erase it when the drinker paid up for the evening, taking it off the cuff. Interesting, but what the hell does that have to do with anything? Well, when you're speaking off the cuff, it means that you're not referencing any written material.