Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Elissa Sussman

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk. Today's guest is Elissa Sussman. She's a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater. Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon,  Disney,  Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil.

SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner, though all my outlines and chapter breakdowns usually go out the window once I start writing. Any planning I do is under the illusion that I know what I’m doing, which is never actually the case.

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

I’m hoping this won’t be typical, but STRAY took about four years from rough draft to final galleys. Nine years if you count the five years I took to “plan” it. Oy.

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

So far just one at a time, though I’m planning on exercising my multi tasking muscle in the near future.

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

I always have about four days where I feel like everything I write is just awful. Powering through that isn’t always easy – especially for a champion procrastinator like myself – but if I can, I usually get into a pretty satisfying groove that can carry me through a draft or batch of rewrites.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None really. There was an alternate version of STRAY (with dragons!) that I consider a very rough draft since there is a scene or two that still made it into the final manuscript.

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

My agent is the fabulous Samantha Shea of Georges Borchardt, Inc. and I grabbed her attention through a traditional query.

How many queries did you send? 

I sent about 60 queries over five months before getting my first offer.

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

It’s twofold: don’t give up, but be aware of the response you’re getting. If you’re not getting any bites – re-examine your query. If you’re not getting interest on requested pages – re-examine your pages. Polish your query, polish your pages and keep trying!

Monday, October 20, 2014

All The Fun Things That Happened When I Left My House

Seriously, what a week.

It's been amazing and awesome and other "a" words, and now I'm exhausted.

I was cold in the mountains, hot in the desert. I slept on floors, couches and airplanes. I got migraines, got rid of migraines, and then had a lingering suspicion that I was about to get a migraine. I flew over the Rockies and asked for silent forgiveness from Lynn & Lucy. I went to the Bellagio and asked for silent forgiveness from the people that run the greenhouse there.

I rode, flew, walked, ran, fell down (I stepped on one of those tubular pillows, long story), and had my first In-N-Out burger. I ate at the Claim Jumper because I thought it said Clam Jumper. I sold books, signed books, and bought books.

Vegas holds just about zero allure for me. It has nothing to do with sin and more about my need for simplicity. Also naked people is just not my venue. Slot machines make me think I'm about to have a seizure, so I held onto pretty much all my money until we went to the Vegas Valley Book Festival and  the organizers offered to ship authors' purchases home since we were traveling.

Now THIS is sin. THIS is temptation. THIS is how you part me from my money.

I flew back to lovely, cold, gray Ohio at midnight, got to bed at 3AM and was at work by 7.

Why? Because I'm a normal person with a normal job who does normal things most of the time.

Except, I was on NPR yesterday. You should listen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

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.

Seventy-three years from now, people around the globe struggle to survive on a ravaged planet as resources dwindle and the Earth is thrust back into the dark ages. Amid the chaos, an ancient Goddess returns to power- will she rescue mankind from self-destruction, or accelerate the annihilation of the human race? I like the idea here, but I definitely need to know why the Goddess would suddenly return to power.

Loki, a lonely and disoriented Goddess, has spent seven decades on Earth adjusting to her returned powers. I need a feel for what / who Loki physically is. Is she a 70 year old woman? An ageless teen? Seeking atonement for the heinous deeds of her past, Loki attempts to salvage the devastated land as she clings to her fading humanity. Determined to transform herself into the hero she’s always yearned to be, she joins a crew of hardcore survivalists led by Lance; a courageous man who draws Loki in with his vision of a better world. But when the wife of Loki’s mortal descendant activates a sword belonging to the missing God of war, Loki becomes the obsessed woman’s target. Why? Now, in order to defeat the power-blind woman, Loki must tap into her primordial energies and risk losing her valued humanity, or else sacrifice the world she helped rebuild, along with the humans closest to her.

Greetings. I’m seeking representation for my adult action series Altered Earth. Complete at 113,000 words, Altered Earth: Return of the Fallen is a gritty speculative adventure geared toward mainstream urban fantasy bibliophiles, general suspense lovers, and literary thrill seekers. This first installment focuses on the hardships and mysteries of thriving in a chaotic realm of enigma, and the obstacles inherent in relationships between mortals and Gods.

My novel is reminiscent of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour with its deep family roots, intense romantic connections, and use of magic in practical situations. There are also elements of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones as the characters labor to build and maintain territories while grappling for power. At its heart, however, Altered Earth explores an ancient God’s struggle to connect with the humans closest to her while suppressing the urge to spread chaos and deception I definitely didn't get that she had an urge to spread chaos and deception, even as Earth’s fate hangs in the balance.

This is well-written, but if a big part of the plot is that Loki is at odds with herself and her need to spread chaos and destruction, that needs to be worked into the query as plot, not as a sentence with the comp titles. In the same vein, you make reference to Loki's dark deeds of the past, but someone not familiar with the goddess / mythology is not going to have a clue what that entails. You'll need to get those details into the query.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Skila Brown & Her Cover Designer Weigh In On CAMINAR & A Giveaway!

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is Skila Brown. Skila holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. CAMINAR, her first novel, was published March 25th by Candlewick. 


Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Nope. I tried really hard not to picture anything at all. Mostly this is because when I did try to picture something, I always thought What in the world could you put on a cover? And that kind of freaked me out. (Will they decide at the last minute they can’t publish the book after all because no one can think of what the cover should look like?) Clearly I am not a visual person.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

10 months before my release date.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor sent a copy of two different cover drafts that they were considering, both very different. She asked for my input. She kept me abreast of the conversations that were going on in-house. First they were leaning towards one cover, then it looked like they were going to go with the other, then at the end it was back to the first cover.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Yes! I think anyone who is lucky enough to publish a book with Candlewick knows that means having a voice in all aspects of the process.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Not that I know of. My editor mentioned trying to keep it off grid until about three months before release, but I saw it out there in internet-land before then. Though, I don’t think there was a “big reveal.”

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Well, I cheated and sent it to people who matter a lot to me but not a lot to the internet book community (i.e. my dad, my sister, and my brother.) Also I might have cheated even more and sent it to my critique group. But they can keep a secret so I’ve decided they don’t count either.

What surprised you most about the process?

The design itself was a huge surprise. Not only because I had no idea what it would look like, but also because it is so incredibly, deliciously, gorgeous that my eyes still can’t get enough of it. My friend (also a writer) said it best: “I want to wallpaper my house with that!” I had always hoped I would like my cover. I never expected to love it as much as I do. It has probably ruined all future book covers for me, because there’s no way my next book cover could ever be this stunning.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

I think it’s important to remember that we are writers. Most of us aren’t visual artists, and we’re not in the business of attracting readers to a book. Which translates to: the people who do this know what they’re doing. I think it’s great to weigh in with an opinion, and absolutely we should speak up if something about the cover is inaccurate, but otherwise I think the best advice I can give is to try not to think about it. Try not to have something you’re picturing in your head. Wait for the surprise. If you hate it for good reason, speak up. But otherwise, go with it. (Easy for me to say, right? I loved my cover!)

In fact, Skila loved her cover so much, she sewed up some matching bookmarks. You can take a peek at those here.

As a special treat the cover designer, Matt Roeser, weighed in for the interview. What were the challenges of designing the cover for Caminar?

Since the book is in verse, I wanted to capture some of the beauty of Skila's poetry, but at the same time, hint at the horrific event that takes place. As I began thinking about designs, I kept coming back to a visual that stuck with me as I read the book; that of Carlos watching from the jungle as his village is burned. I tend not to like covers that have photographs of the protagonist on them, but instead try to create designs that are more graphic and abstract in nature. The pattern of the leaf shape seemed perfect for achieving this. Playing with bold pops of color such as orange and red mixed in with the greens of the jungle worked as symbolizing both flowers and embers of fire. Then, I slightly altered the leaf shape for his eyes so it still feels like part of the pattern. Probably the hardest part of designing the cover were those eyes, as I went through several iterations to get the right expression that hit between shock and sadness. Altogether, I think it achieves a good balance of being visually interesting and hinting at the darker elements of the story.

And Candlewick is offering up a giveaway copy of CAMINAR! (U.S. only.) Enter in the Rafflecopter below! And educators, be sure to check out Skila's site where there are educator guides!

a Rafflecopter giveaway










Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Busy Week Ahead!

I just finished up an amazing time at Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, OH, which was a great time. I got to hang out with old friends and make some new ones, plus I played Pictionary with teens and threw a lot of my words down on the ground when I found them unacceptable. I'm really thankful they didn't enforce the $500 per instance littering law.

And there's even more on the horizon! Next week I'll be in Salt Lake City and Vegas, helping to celebrate the debut of my critique partner, RC Lewis, with her book STITCHING SNOW. I'll be keeping company with some pretty cool people the entire week, so check out my schedule below and come see me if you can!

Tuesday, October 14 7PM

STITCHING SNOW Launch at Provo Library with Peggy Eddleman, Elana Johnson, Demitria Lunetta, Mindy McGinnis, Lissa Price, Ann Redisch Stampler, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Wednesday, October 15 7PM

Signing at The King's English in Salt Lake City, with Peggy Eddleman, R.C. Lewis, Mindy McGinnis, Lissa Price, Ann Redisch Stampler, Demitria Lunetta, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Saturday, October 18 - Vegas Valley Book Festival

The Future's So Bright, We Have to Be Saved with Elizabeth Fama, Demitria Lunetta, Lynne Matson, Mindy McGinnis, Jodi Meadows, Lissa Price, Karri Thompson, Amy Tintera at YA Tent 1@ 10:00AM. Signing will be at 11:00 in YA Signing Tent 1





Saturday, October 11, 2014

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.

Spanish-American war veteran Walter Churchstone, in the winter of 1925, trades a wagon wheel in his blacksmith shop to a Japanese man named Ito and his two teenage sons Michi and Shirou, for stolen U.S Naval maps of Hawaiian military forts and gun batteries. Definitely hit the brakes - there is a LOT going on in this first sentence. Historical placement, full names, names of supporting characters and it's generally just too long. You need a hook - an encapsulation of what your book is about in a catchy sentence. The next week Ito returns, he wants the maps back. Minutes later the only survivor of the four is the son Michi. This is definitely reading much more like a synopsis than a query. The amount of detail here is definitely overkill for a query. Walter's seventeen year old son Billy finds, “Michi Ito burn face” scribbled on the dirt floor next to his dead father. Billy finds the maps and keeps them to himself. With nothing left for him at home, Billy joins the army always looking for “Michi Ito”. Six years later Billy sees an oriental sergeant at Officers Training Candidate school with a burn on his face. The lying, cheating, stealing Michi Ito with poor English passes every test in OTC until Billy finds out how. Ito is thrown out of the army vowing to kill Billy just like he did his father. Yep - this is definitely reading like a synopsis, not a query. You've got step-by-step plotting going on, not a compulsively readable nugget that delivers the central drive of your book.

Colonel Bill Churchstone is stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when the Japanese attack. His knowledge of the maps that he has held the last fifteen years help him hold the Japanese back despite three enemy attacks in five days. But Churchstone finds himself the surviving commanding officer on Pearl and he must quickly retreat the remaining five hundred men and women into the hills as Major Michi Ito, the commander of the Japanese invasion force, marches into Honolulu. Hearing Churchstone is on the island Ito wants nothing but deadly revenge. They cross paths again on Oahu for the third time. The next two years Churchstone's life is nothing but a ricochet inside a concrete bunker. Yes, again - all the same problems here. Too much detail. This is definitely not reading like a query.

The War in Churchstone, 78000 words, is a historic alternative novel that is a cross between P.T. Deutermann and Scott Turow. A story of self-determined survival and unrequited love no idea where the love would come in? proves the human heart is stronger than war, and the bonds of hatred and love can be one and the same. There's absolutely no indication of love in any thing prior to this. 

You definitely need to do look into the difference between a query and a synopsis, and revise. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Talk: SIX MONTHS LATER by Natalie 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.

Average-achiever Chloe falls asleep in study hall on a beautiful spring day, and wakes up to the snow falling outside her classroom window, standardized test scores that have Ivy Leagues fighting over her, and the crush of her life as a boyfriend. But six months have been erased, and she has no idea how her life became perfect.

Her best friend won't talk to her, making it very clear that Chloe has done something unforgivable. The brooding school bad-boy's number has somehow ended up in her phone, and she has the compulsion to call him constantly, even though they've never exchanged more than a few words. A perfect, pretty classmate has suddenly left town, leaving a wake of unanswered questions. Notes Chloe left to herself in pages of books claim there's a connection, but Chloe can't piece it together.

Memories she can't place start to surface- conversations that never happened and situations that definitely didn't exist. As her life begins to spiral out of control, Chloe has to wonder what price she has to pay to be perfect... and if perfect is what she wants in the first place.