Monday, May 30, 2011

An SAT with Cheryl Rainfield & A Query That Worked


First, a quick reminder that the flash fiction contest here on the blog starts at MIDNIGHT (that would be EDT) on June 1.  Other directions and stuff are here.

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk.  Cheryl Rainfield is the author of  SCARS (an ALA Top 10 Quick Picks & Rainbow List book) about Kendra, a girl who must face her past and stop hurting herself before it's too late; the upcoming HUNTED about Cassie, a telepath on the run from government troopers who must choose between saving herself or saving the world, and two hi-lo (high interest, low vocabulary) fantasies: SkinWalkers: Walking Both Sides, and Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon.  YA author Ellen Hopkins described SCARS as "a brave novel, a read-in-one-sitting-except-when-you-have-to-put-it-down-to-breathe novel." Cheryl is an advocate for teens who’ve been through rough experiences, especially self-harm and sexual abuse, as well as teens grappling with sexual identity.  Trailers for SCARS and her It Gets Better and Reasons Not To Hurt Yourself videos attest to her dedication.

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

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or a Panster?
CR: I used to be mostly a panster, but I’ve started to do more planning with recent books. I used to start writing with just an idea of the issue or topic, a first line in my head, and knowing where I wanted the character to end up, and then I would do a huge amount of rewrites and edits to bring it up to a publishable level. (I did over 30 drafts for SCARS before it was published.) Lately, I start off with my idea, first line, and where I want to end up, but I also write out the major plot turning points and reveals once I’ve got a draft. I go through my notes from John Truby’s ANATOMY OF A STORY and Michael Hauge's WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, and then I figure out in detail the things I need to show, change, or add. In my next book from scratch (I’ve other manuscripts that I’ve already finished that I may want to rework) I may try to plan out details before I write a complete first draft.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
CR: My first draft takes me about two months, but then I rewrite and edit and re-edit it. I edited and rewrote SCARS for more than 10 years before it was published. Hunted (coming out this October from WestSide) took a lot less; I did 14 drafts before it was accepted. I think I’m getting better. (smiling)

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
CR: I try to work on just one book at a time, but sometimes I have to work on two, with ideas for another percolating. I’m always working on the next novel while I’m editing or doing book promotion on the current (and past) books. I do book promotion every day, which takes a lot of time, focus, and energy.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
CR: No. Writing came easily to me. It was talking aloud that was hard for me (my abusers threatened to kill me if I talked about the abuse). Writing was my safety, my way of reaching others and communicating, and it usually flows for me.

BBC: How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
CR: I had about 8-10 manuscripts already written before I was agented and before I got my first book contract. Some of those manuscripts I will be rewriting, editing, and polishing in the hopes of future publication. Others I may put away or scrap.

BBC: Have you ever quit on a ms, and how did you know it was time?
CR: I haven’t completely quit on a ms yet, though I’ve set some of them aside and don’t know if I’ll get back to them. I have other books I want to write as well.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
CR: Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger agency is my wonderful agent http://www.andreasomberg.com ; she's sensitive, thoughtful, savvy, and really knows her stuff. Can you tell I like her? (grinning) I’d submitted another manuscript to her before SCARS, and she’d rejected it with the kindest, most thoughtful rejection letter I’d ever received, with helpful feedback, saying if I had another project and didn't have representation by then, she’d like to work with me. I’d read that one way to get an agent is to contact them after you get an offer. So I wrote her when I got an offer from WestSide for SCARS, and thankfully she liked the manuscript and became my agent. I am so happy with her!

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
CR: I submitted SCARS (and edited and rewrote it) more than 30 times over 10 years before I got both a contract and a agent. I lost track of how many queries I sent out (to both agents and publishers) but it was hundreds. I should have been targeting agents more narrowly, though. I was also working on other books during that time.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book  for sale?
CR: It felt wonderful. Seeing my book in a real live bookstore, seeing it available online—what a good feeling!

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
CR: Authors don’t usually have a lot of input on cover art. I was lucky; I mentioned to my publisher that I had a professional photograph of my (scarred) arm, and wondered if they’d be willing to look at it. They were, and they used it on the cover of SCARS. I’m so happy with it! I’d worried beforehand about possibly having a cover that sensationalized self-harm, or that glossed right over it. What they did with the photo of my arm felt perfect to me—it tells the reader immediately what the book is about, but it isn’t violent, and the scars are muted yet still visible.

BBC: What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
CR: I used to think that being a writer meant mostly writing. I knew from my research that I’d have to do book promotion—but I was surprised at how much book promotion I actually have to do. I work on book promotion every day, and it takes a lot of time and energy.

Social Networking and Marketing
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you do?
CR: I do a huge amount. I am very active on Twitter and email/elists, and I have my own website and blog, which I regularly update. I also post to Facebook and to other sites, like RedRoom and AboutMe, and I have a Tumblr and Facebook site for SCARS. I often do author interviews and guest blogs, buy my own books (directly from my publisher) and mail them out for review to online reviews who've agreed to review it, hire people to create book trailers for me, get bookmarks printed and mail them out to people and bring them to signings, do signings and appearances at the major conferences my publisher asks me to be at, and keep trying to network.
Right now I am hosting a contest on my site (until June 15) where people can enter to win 1 of 10 signed copies of SCARS, and 1 of 3 $10 Amazon gift cards.
I also have a wonderful publicist, Julie Schoerke of JKS Communications, who helped me get some TV interviews and get SCARS out there.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
CR: I think it’s important to start gaining an audience even before you get published, if you can. I created a website and had it established for years before I was published, and I think it helped. I know it helped me have a higher ranking with my website, at the very least.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
CR: Immensely! I think social media has given me and other writers a real boost. I get to talk to readers, other writers, editors, agents, who I wouldn’t be able to talk to otherwise. I really think it helps get the word out about my books; SCARS might have been buried under all the other books that get published without it.

Cheryl was wonderful enough to share her Query that Worked with us - check it out. It's a great example of how to get an agent *after* securing your own contract.

I just received an offer and a contract from WestSide Books for my edgy YA manuscript, SCARS. I was wondering if you would work with me. I would really like an agent I trust to work with the contract--and to help me with future books. You previously considered a YA ms of mine, and gave me extensive and kind feedback about it. You also said that you thought I was a very talented writer, and that if somewhere down the line I found myself without representation but with a new project on my hands, that you'd love to take a look.


I went through my emails and found yours, and realized how much I liked what you said to me in your rejection letter. How comfortable I felt with your approach, personality wise. How much I valued how you really praised/liked my work and were personable. I really want to like the agent I work with, to feel comfortable with them, and to have them love my writing. I think I would have that with you. So, please let me know.


I really like the vision for my book the the editor at West Side has, and her ideas of promotion. I would like to go with WestSide Books. I want someone I trust to negotiate what can be negotiated on the contract, and to help me submit future books, of which I will have many. I have written 7-10 YA manuscripts already, though they need a lot of editing. MIND TRAVELER is the next closest to publication, I think. I write and edit quickly, but I put my manuscripts through many edits. I am starting to get better and faster at that, though, and seem to need less revisions to produce good-quality writing. I write both YA fantasy and realistic fantasy, and have also recently written a first draft of a middle-grade magic realism book (but I need to put it through a few edits before it is publishable material).


In SCARS, my 44,500-word YA manuscript, fifteen-year-old Kendra Marshall is keeping a secret, even from herself—the identity of who abused her. It hurts too much to remember, yet still the memories claw at her mind. Kendra cuts to stop those memories—but someone is following her, threatening to kill her if she talks. With the help of the girl she loves, Kendra must face her darkest secrets to find safety, and, ultimately, her own strength.


Many teens secretly self-harm; it is often a painful, hidden issue. I have drawn on my personal experience of self-harm to offer an insider perspective in SCARS.


I write both edgy YA fiction and YA fantasy. My YA hi-lo medieval fantasy, Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon will be published by HIP Books in Sept 2009, and I have agreed to write another book for them for 2010. Two of my non-fiction articles on self-harm and self-care are published in Jan Sutton’s Healing the Hurt Within by How to Books (2005). My paranormal‑suspense short story ‘The Healer’ was published in an anthology by Red Deer Press (The Horrors Terrifying Tales: Book Two, Peter Carver (ed), 2006), and my short story 'Comfort Food' was published in a YA horror anthology by Graveside Tales (Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths, Colleen Morris, Joel A. Sutherland (eds), Dec 2007). I am a member of SCBWI and CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers), and have been part of a regular YA critique group for more than 10 years.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Non-Traditional SAT with Self-Published Author Cyndi Tefft

There are many roads to success, and today's SAT features an author who chose a non-traditional route - self-publishing.  Author Cyndi Tefft's romance, BETWEEN, is a sweet and touching paranormal romance which escapes the abundant cliches in the market.  When teen Lindsey dies in a car accident, the angel (called "transporters") who comes to collect her soul is a dashing young Scotsman named Aiden.  A transporter's job is not only to lead the departed to heaven, but to help them adjust to the fact of their death. In Tefft's world, this is the purpose of the area between life and after-life.  Aiden and Lindsey fall in love, and she dreads the end of her time in between, when she will be parted from Aiden to move on to heaven.  He cannot follow her there.  He was cursed with the job of transporting because of his suicide, and will only be redeemed when he is truly loved by another who accepts him, and his actions.

BETWEEN rises above other paranormal romances in the market because it explores angles that other authors don't tend to address.  Lindsey and Aiden both talk openly about God, their faith, and the role it played in their life - and afterlife. While religion plays a large part in the tale, it's not heavy handed or didactic in any way.  The touch on that aspect of the tale is deft; no teen would feel that they'd just been preached to after reading the book, but neither will they walk away from it without learning a little about spirituality.  Also, when Lindsey truly accepts her death she mourns the loss of her future children, and the fact that she will never be a mother - even though it was not something she'd ever realized she wanted. Lindsey's maturity and insight is a very refreshing angle in YA romance.


Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
CT: Definitely a pantser. I like to start with an idea and just run with it. Sometimes that means I get stuck or even burned out and have to come back to it later, but it's the excitement of discovering what comes next that feeds my creative energy. I tried to plot out a novel once. I wrote the synopsis and detailed the plot from start to finish, but by the time I was done, I didn't want to write the book because I felt like I'd already read it!

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
CT: Well, since I've only done it once, I can't say there is a "typical" amount of time. Ha! Between took me six months to write and was over 800 pages when I got to the end of the first draft. I eventually split it into two books and spent about a year editing the first one. So I have a good chunk finished on the sequel already, but I am not sure how long it will take me to get that one to the finished stage.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
CT: I prefer to work on one writing project at a time. I am easily distracted, though. The temptation is always there to start something else (the New Shiny Idea!), but if I do, it's that much harder to come back to the first project. Distractions abound: email, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, television, movies, other books I want to read...  Just staying focused (especially when the writing gets hard) is half the battle!

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
CT: Truthfully, no. When I first decided to write the book, it was mostly because I wanted to see if I could do it. I am notorious for getting excited about a project, getting bored and then moving on to something else. I honestly didn't think I would get all the way to the end. The story itself kept me going, along with encouragement from friends and family.
The fear didn't really begin until I started querying the book and agents began to reject it. I suddenly questioned whether it was any good at all. That worry still sits on my shoulders when I go to write now, which is unfortunate.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Did you go the query/agent route before deciding to self-publish? What made you choose that path?
CT: After finishing my first draft of BETWEEN (which of course, I thought was perfect as soon as I'd typed the last sentence), I made a newbie mistake: I whipped up a query and emailed it to dozens of agents, certain the requests would come pouring in. They didn't.
I had so much yet to learn and I spent the next year reading books (and blogs) about writing, editing, and the publishing industry. I got feedback from others through writing sites and started building my social network. The emotional rollercoaster of the query process was draining, but I loved the story and didn't want to let it die.
Eventually, I was offered a contract by a small press, but I turned it down in favor of self-publishing. I'd been looking into the option for several months—researching how to do it, the pros and cons—and decided that I wanted to go that route. I wanted that direct connection with the readers and since I wasn't going to be published by one of the big houses, I figured I'd have to most of the promotion work myself anyway. The process has certainly been challenging, but it was definitely the best decision for me.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there?
CT: You can spend a lot of time reading books about how to write, how to craft characters, how to build tension, etc. That’s all good and you should do that. Still, the most important thing is to sit down and write the story you want to write. Don’t worry about all that other stuff; you can learn it as you go. Have fun with it.
And when it gets hard (because it will!), remember why you started writing in the first place. It probably wasn’t to earn scads of money or to be on Oprah. It was probably because you had a story in your heart that you wanted to get down. Or maybe it was because you came up with a crazy idea and wanted to see how it would play out. Whatever the reason, let that be the fuel that keeps you going when the words fail you.
Don’t write for validation from others. Write because you enjoy it, because you want to, because you have to. If that’s not true, then rent a movie instead because being an author is not for the faint of heart. Still, if you want it, you can make it happen!

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
CT: To be able to type my name into the search bar at Amazon.com and have BETWEEN pop up for sale is still quite a thrill. To hold the paperback in my hands the first time was sheer bliss. The time and dedication it takes to go from idea to publication is mind-boggling, and to have physical proof that I—yes, I, Cyndi Tefft, She Who Gets Bored Easily—was able to stick it out and make it that far was sweet nectar indeed.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
CT: My graphic artist skills are sorely lacking, but I had an idea of what I wanted the cover to look like. I chose the black background and the image of the blue smoke, along with the Celtic lettering in the title. Then I handed that vision over to Woulds & Shoulds Editing and Design, who created pure magic. I am completely in love with the cover and highly recommend their services!

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
CT: Formatting a manuscript is an absolute bear! I had to learn not only the industry standards, but all about mirrored margins, widows & orphans, section and page breaks, text styles, headers & footers, and then how to convert the whole mess from Word to PDF. I had no idea that part of the process was going to be so difficult. I just about threw in the towel at the final stage. Ha!

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog/site/Twitter?
CT: All of it. :) Though I am sure a fan page will pop up any day, LOL.
Here are a variety of ways to connect with me online:
My blog, Twitter, Facebook , Goodreads, Shelfari, and Library Thing.

In addition, you can find BETWEEN for sale online at a variety of retailers:
Print only:
Signed copy from me and
Createspace.com


Ebook only:
Smashwords.com or Apple.com

Print or ebook:
Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent/publication or should you be working on it before?
CT: No matter where you are in your writing process (haven't started, just finished a draft, ready to go with a polished manuscript), start social networking now if you haven't already done so. Create a blog and get followers. Set up an author page on Facebook. Play and connect with other writers (and readers) on Twitter. Join communities on Goodreads, LinkedIn, AbsoluteWrite, Authonomy and others. Marketing is about getting your book in front of people, so the more eyes you have access to, the more successful you will be when the time comes. Above all, be friendly and supportive!

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
CT: Word of mouth has always played a crucial role in marketing products, but it’s even more important to the self-published author. Very few people respond to an author saying, “Hey, buy my book. It’s awesome!” So it’s important for authors to find others to shout it from the rooftops on their behalf.
Book blogs are becoming increasingly important in the changing world of publishing, as many people look to them for suggestions on what to read next. In truth, readers don’t really care who published a book. They just want a good story and they’ll be more willing to give unknown authors a try if a trusted source (like a blogger) recommends them.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Which Someone Asks Me Stuff

Guess what?  You know how they say "three times a bridesmaid never a bride?"  Well, I've been in five weddings and am divorced, so you do the math.  I'm really bad at it.

But - the same does not hold true for "three hundred (or however many) times the interviewer, never the interviewee," because... someone asked me questions!  And I answered them!

Alright seriously - check out a dual interview with myself, and my Agent Lady, Adriann Ranta, over at KristaV's Mother, Write, Repeat. blog.  I talk about how awesome she is, she talks about how awesome I am.  It's generally a good time.

And a reminder about flashing me: the flash fiction contest starts JUNE 1.  Rules, regulations, and unmitigated punishments for not following said rules and regulations can be found here.

But don't be afraid to enter, cause I don't bite.

Well, I do, but I usually don't break the skin.

Okay, sometimes I break the skin but I hardly ever draw blood.

Enjoy the interview, enjoy writing your flash fiction, and definitely check back in tomorrow for a very cool SAT that might just have you wanting to pet me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interview with Michelle Houts - SAT WoW!

A quick announcement before we begin this installment of SAT - our winner from the Adriann Ranta BBCHAT is Bethany!  She of the adorable-child-with-crossed-fingers avatar.  For guessing correctly that Adriann has never participated in Girls Gone Grabblin' (cause, as another player pointed out - who ISN'T a rabid X Files fan?) Bethany won copies of SHIVER and LINGER by Maggie Stiefvater.  And to my previous winners who are like Hey!  I only got one book!  - Bethany is getting previously-loved-by-more-than-one-teen copies, while you guys got shiny pretty stuff.  And Bethany is OK with that :)

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. Even more special - this is a WoW! Edition of the SAT - We're Ohio Writers! Yeah - cause we grow 'em here.

Michelle Houts lives and plays on a family farm in West Central Ohio. She shares her days with her three children, the famer of her dreams, some cattle, a whole lot of barn cats, a golden retriever, and a goat who believes he’s a golden retriever. She enjoys reading, cooking and hiking any place that has hills because where she lives it is very flat. An eternal student, Michelle has degrees in special education, early childhood education, and speech-language pathology. THE BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY  (Delacorte, 2009) is Michelle’s first novel for middle grade readers. It received the 2010 IRA Children’s Book Award for intermediate fiction and was a finalist for the 2010 Buckeye Children’s Book Award.

Michelle's SAT will revolve around her non - traditional approach that landed her a contract.  How'd she do it? Let's ask her!

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
MH: I think I'm a planner. To a fault, maybe. I'm sure there are times that I spend too much time thinking about what to write and not enough time actually writing!

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
MH: I have a lot of rings in my life's circus right now. More than three. Many more. So, my writing time varies greatly from month to month. Generally, I allow about 4 months for a first draft. After that, the real work begins.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
MH: I only work on one novel at a time, although I am by nature the multi-tasking type, and I'd love to have the freedom to just get up each morning and follow whatever whim my heart desires on that day. Since I'm not there (yet) I have to be disciplined enough to finish a project before moving on to another. That being said, I do always have several novels in various stages, but once I've committed to one of them, I have to finish it. I will, however, indulge in some picture book manuscript creation or revision even while working on a novel because I find that a good way satisfy that need to multi-task!

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
MH: Mostly the fear of anything over 500 words. I never saw myself as a novelist until a family friend (who happened to be a retired English teacher) told me I should give it a shot. I dreamed of being a picture book author. But it was a novel that got me published.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
MH: I guess I've temporarily quit on two novels that have been put away to... ripen or decay? Not sure yet. Either or both could see the light of day again. Or not... Mostly, I put them away because I had a better idea and had decided to go with it. So the new book, which turned out to be THE BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY, took over the space on the top of the desk while the others went into hiding.

On Your Non – Traditional Success:
BBC: Tell us about your non - traditional approach to success.
MH: I was blessed to do what some say is impossible and I sold my first novel to Random House through the Delacorte Dell Middle Grade Contest. It didn't win. No one won the year I submitted. But it did get noticed and passed on to an editor who called and said if I was willing to work on it a little, they might be willing to offer a contract. I did. And they did. And that was the beginning.

BBC: So you think contests are a great way for aspiring writers to get their foot in the door?
MH: I think aspiring authors need to explore all avenues toward publication and be careful not to rule out anything. Entering a contest worked for me. It was a way to get into a house that was otherwise closed to unsolicited manuscripts.  But I also attended conferences, joined SCBWI, and learned how to be my own best advocate.

BBC: Do you think you’ll want an agent for the next go-round?
MH: You bet. Don't get me wrong. My experience with the folks at Delacorte was fantastic, but I don't really wish to repeat it. I have too many unanswered questions, and I felt a little alone in the big, strange world of publishing.


On Being Published:
BBC: How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
MH: I live in a rural area and I did a lot of book signings and launch parties and school visits where a local retailer hand-sold my books because a person would have to drive for miles to buy one themselves. So the first time my daughter and I went to a major metropolitan area and I walked into a bookstore and saw it there on the shelf, face out, right next to HOWLIDAY INN (Houts, Howe - see how that works?!) I thought I might wet my pants. I took a picture instead. Much more appropriate.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
MH: Funny you asked. Remember I didn't have an agent to help me wade through that manifesto of a contract I was given. So, what do you think stuck out to me? Section 7. The one that says the publisher will design the jacket and select the cover art and I will not. Maybe that's because it was one of the few sections written in verbage I could understand. I might have been signing away rights to my dog's first litter of puppies, but I wouldn't have known it. Section 7 I understood. And it filled me with dread. These publisher people were in New York City. My book was about cattle. Beef cattle. What if they put a big old dairy cow on the cover? I panicked and prayed until the jpeg of the cover arrived. Then I danced. I loved it. No udders anywhere! And the best part? Everyone, and I mean everyone, thinks the girl on my cover in my daughter. What a hoot!

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
MH: I remember a time when my editor and I weren't agreeing on one aspect of the book. She saw it one way. I saw it another. I got her editorial letter with her suggestion and I crumbled. I thought it was the end. I figured: they are a major publishing company and I am just a farm gal from Ohio. Who sounds more powerful in that duo? What surprised me was that when I called my editor and explained my grief over the direction she'd ask me to take, she quickly backed off. I'll never forget her words: "Your name is on the cover of this book, Michelle. Everything that goes in it has to ring true to what you want to say." It wasn't the end. No one was going to strong-arm me into making the book they wanted. I was permitted to own the material. What a happy surprise.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
MH: I decided early on that it would be well worth it to invest a portion of my advance back into marketing the book. I know some would shake their heads and say it is the publisher's job, but I knew that there would be a limited amount of resources dedicated to promoting a first-timer. So, I had my
website
and blog set up. I got into Facebook and spent a few dollars on nice, color postcards, business cards, and school visit flyers. I lined up all my own bookstore appearances including a four-city Ohio mini book tour. It's been well worth every penny.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
MH: I believe it has helped me connect with readers. Usually I get "friended" or emailed AFTER someone has read the book, but readers are more likely to feel a kinship with an author that they've been able to communicate with. So, it may well be helping me build a fan base for that next book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Talk - MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore

Listen - I don't like much.  Really, it's true.  I used to post many (and then again) a review over at AgentQuery, but my mad posting reached a lull, and then... nothing. People noticed, and asked, "Why?"  Well, I don't think it's good politics to post a bad review, and I haven't read much that I've liked lately.  Liked enough to donate my writing time to getting the word out there and telling others they need to go get this book.  Like, now.  That drought has ended.

A love triangle, a lost prince, a madwoman in the attic, possession, dark secrets kept quiet through murder and machinations, political intrigue, brewing war... and a living soul trapped forever inside the clockwork body of an automaton.  Have I got your attention?

Recently, I had a student check out MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore.  And it had her attention - to the point that I had to say her name three times to get her to look up at me.

BBC: Didn't you check that book out yesterday?
Student: *glassy eyed, still stuck in BookLand* Huh? What?
BBC: That book - you just checked it out yesterday, now you're like, three-quarter's done.
Student: *clearly wishing I would stop talking to her so she can be ALL the way done, but is too polite to say so* Yeah, it's really good.
BBC: OK I'll leave you to it.
Student: *already back in BookLand* K

Well, you know what they say about curiosity and cats... so six hours later I was 1) done with the book and 2) completely understanding her reaction.

Dolamore's eerily familiar world - part Gothic Victorian, part Faerie - pulls the reader in and won't let you go.  I don't know if a lyrical novel has even been termed a tour de force, but I'd like to apply that here.  With deft touches the reader is in love with Nimira's voice - our female main character, a strong noble-blooded girl from the land of Tassim, who fate has cheated of a life of ease.  Forced to play upon her skills as a dancing "trouser girl" in a second rate show, Nim catches the eye of Hollin, a man of money and an accomplished sorcerer who looks to fill the hole in his heart left by the death of his wife.

Nim agrees to his proposition that she come with Hollin to his estate, presumably to sing alongside an automaton he has recently purchased at an estate sale, and from whom other singers have run from in panic, claiming that it is haunted... or possessed.  Nim stifles her own fear the first time she sings with the automaton and it looks at her with intelligence, and attempts to speak.  Using the piano keyboard, she works out a way to communicate with the automaton, or rather - Erris, the faerie prince whose spirit is trapped within, bound by dark magic.  Her own alienation and captivity serves as a cornerstone for their relationship, which blooms into the impossible.

Nim would risk all - losing her position and safety alongside Hollin, exposing herself and Erris to the roaming eye of a political figure whose scheming brought about the deaths of Erris entire noble family years ago, calling forth the spirits of dark magic - in order to bring Erris true life, or at least, a true death to escape his mechanical prison.

MAGIC UNDER GLASS recently came out in paperback - and by recently I mean, May 24th.  If you've been looking for something to revive your love affair with YA, magic, or just reading in general - I think Dolamore's got you covered. ; )

Monday, May 23, 2011

Embracing the Awesome Redux & The Misleading Beauty of Bad Words

In this post I talked about breaking free of my Lit Bitch bonds and how I’ve rollicked about in my liberation ever since.  I originally meant to move that conversation into the television medium, but the post got a bit longish and I wondered if you guys really wanted to listen to me talk quite that much.  So I continue here.

Another of my odd personal characteristics that goes hand in hand with Former Lit Bitchiness is my complete Inability to Accept Compliments & Recommendations.  I don’t know where this came from other than a perverse mix of humility (I have a gag reflex when being complimented) and pride (if I want to read / watch something, I’ll find it on my own, thank you very much).  Kind of an odd quirk for someone who spends 40 a week giving recommendations, aye?

But, it is what it is, and yes, if you think I should read / watch something your best bet to get me to do it is to never, ever mention it’s existence to me.

With that in mind, I’ll recount a conversation between myself and my mother:

Mother: I’ve got two seasons of Castle on DVD.  You’d love it.
Mindy: *glances over at stack of books waiting to be read* I don’t have time.
Mother: But it’s about a writer, and there’s all these great pop culture references, and there’s this female cop, and he decides to shadow her for research-
Mindy: Yeah mom, I picked up on the cutesy plot from the ads.
Mother: But I think you’d really like it, they’ve got this great relationship – it reminds me a lot of Mulder and Scully.
Mindy: Dammit Mother, did you have to play the X Files card?

Well, once the X Files card has been played, it can’t go back.  So, BBC settled in one night (when she should have been writing, ahem) and watched oooohhhh….. well I won’t tell you how many episodes I watched on that first night.  But I will say that I was sold the second Nathon Fillion stripped off his sock and used the barefoot toe clutch move to pick up a handcuff key, cause that’s exactly how I retrieve dropped laundry when my arms are full with the basket.

And no – I’m not writing this post just to talk about the awesomeness of Castle. (and NOBODY better breathe a word to me about season three!!  I know there was a cliffhanger from my Twitter feed and I’m not even through season two yet – mum’s the word!)   Besides being appropriately humbled for rejecting the plot as “cutesy,” I’m learning a lot as a writer from watching the show.

And one of those things is how to use strong language without using bad words.

I like gritty shows, and I mean gritty like Brotherhood, Deadwood, Dexter and Game of Thrones.  It’s another reason why I laid off network television post-LOST.  I didn’t feel like anything had enough weight and grit for me after gorging myself on the brutality (both visual and audial) of pay TV.  But in watching Castle, I’ve noticed something  - they’ve got Irish thugs and scarred serial killers delivering lines of dialogue that make your fight or flight kick in… but I haven’t heard any swearing yet.  Beckett delivers threats without invoking any four-letter words, but her eyebrows convey them.

Yes, a large part of that is due to the acting quality.  Absolutely.  But the dialogue is clean, yet chilling.  I think it’s a good lesson (especially for YA writers) that we can write a bad guy, or a tough girl without making trash flow out of their mouths.  I don’t have a problem with swearing – at all.  BBC’sMother has already filed her complaint about my use of language in print.  After watching a season and a half of Castle, I question using those words though.  Is it a crutch?  Am I unable to convey the feelings without going for the shock value of the f-bomb?

Hmmmm…. Chew on it.

Oh, and yeah, I know that because I referenced Castle and X Files in the same post you all are going to bombard me with comments and emails saying I need to watch Firefly

And guess what?  If you do that, chances are – I won’t. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

BBCHAT's With Her Favorite Agent Lady - Adriann Ranta!

Today BBCHAT continues! Bigblackcat's Humane Agent Talk: In Which A Particularly Agreeable Agent Answers a Series of Questions that Have Nothing to do with Queries or Submission Guidelines. Yeah, don't try to make an acronym out of that last bit.

The BBCHAT is designed to get the personality of the agent in the spotlight, and an enterprising querier can use this information to figure out if the agent is a good fit for them, rather than just another agent who happens to cover their genre.

The last question involves something that oddly resembles a contest, and ties in with the blog name. Note the rules: to participate you need to follow the blog (so include your screenname in the email so that I can identify you), and your answer must come in an email to me, not a post in the comments section. First person to email me with the correct answer wins. You'll notice the "email me" link above my followers box to the right. Or maybe you won't notice it. In which case, you'll be totally flummoxed.

Yup, she's adorable AND has
good taste in writers!
Today's guest is my own, dear Agent Lady, Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.  As a biographical sidenote, I have to add that she has a lovely speaking voice and doesn't mind when I send her emails with the subject line "Cholera Update" when fleshing out an idea.

BBC: What are you reading right now and why do you like it?
AR: I’m just finishing up CLOUD ATLAS by David Mitchell, which I’ve wanted to read for a while. It tried to lose me a few times, but what a great book.

BBC: Paper or plastic?
AR: Paper, paper, paper. I read my manuscripts on a Kindle though, as I have a very vivid nightmare of someone bumping me on the subway when I’m holding 300 loose manuscript pages, and tragedy ensues.

BBC: What's on your bucket list?
AR: My bucket list of life, or my bucket list of books? I’d like to travel to Madagascar and read MOBY DICK.

BBC: Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull?
AR: No, I also have very vivid nightmares of mechanical bulls.

BBC: What type of agent are you?
 a) Cheerleader
 b) Therapist
 c) Bushwhacking Guide
 d) Red Ink Saturation Committee Member
AR: (e) All of the above, nearly in all cases.

BBC: If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?
AR: I have an ever-changing list of projects I’m looking for, but then something totally unexpected will land in my lap and I’ll wonder why I hadn’t asked for a spiritual picture book treatise on the morality of UFO cow abduction before! Basically, I’m better at leaving the creativity to the writers.

BBC: Tell me three things about yourself, one of them being a LIE! First person to email me with the correct guess as to the lie gets... something awesome.
AR: 1) I appear in “Girls Gone Grabblin’” a documentary on noodlin’.
2) I’m a rabid X-Files fan.
3) I know how to surf.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Embrace the Awesome - Don't Be A Lit Bitch

Confession time - I'm kinda a lit bitch.

You know the type - the ones that like to carry around obscure authors in trade paperback and read them in really public places.  Yeah... that's kinda me.  Or at least, it used to be.  I had a breakthrough session with my sister a few years ago, when I was a post college grad with two shiny degrees in English Literature and Religion, reading Euripides in the backroom at Hallmark on my lunch break. (Sidenote: yes BBC worked at a Hallmark.  No, we're not going to talk about it). Meanwhile, big sis is clocking in as the chair of the English department at a rural school, and rollicking around in the YA market that is about to explode.

BBC'S Sister: You really should read this Harry Potter book sometime.  It's pretty good.
BBC: Yeah, that's what I hear.
BBC'S Sister: No really.  It's good.
BBC: Right, okay.
BBC's Sister: Stop blowing me off.  You might actually like it.
BBC: Sorry, I've got some big person books to read.
BBC's Sister: You're just being pissy because it's super popular and you don't want to look like you've bought in to it.
BBC: You're just being pissy because I like to read books with words like "transubstantiation" and you don't know what that means.

Well, if any of you have sisters then you know that the conversation totally degenerated from there.  For the record, I did not wizen to the awesome until ORDER OF THE PHOENIX was released, at which time I sullenly asked to borrow the series from big sis.  We made a summer deal - she gave the smoldery hot and intelligent OUTLANDER series by Diana Gabaldon a shot, and I gave JK Rowling the time of day.

Uh, yeah.  We spent the summer sprawled on beach towels untangling tiny plot details and discussing these amazingly talented authors whose backstory weaving is remarkable.  We also both ate a lot of crow, but that's besides the point.

My next lesson.  Lit Bitch status aside, the OUTLANDER series has had my heart since word one.  Whenever anyone (adult) asks me for a book recommendation the conversation goes like this:

BBC: Alright, I'm going to talk to you about an awesome series, but you have to get past the first phrase out of my mouth without losing interest or mocking me.
Friend: Okay.
BBC: It's a time travel romance -
Friend: *eyes glaze over, nods politely* Okay
BBC: No seriously.  Here, just take it.  You have to promise me to read past page fifty before giving up.
Friend: Yeah sure.  I'll give it a try. *gives it dubious glance, tucks it away into purse*

TWO DAYS LATER -

Friend: Hey, I'm bringing this back to you.
BBC: C'mon now - did you read past page fifty like you promised?
Friend: Er... uh.... I'm done.  *blushes* Can I get the sequel?

It's also true that the magic isn't always there for everyone.  I haven't found a vampire attractive since Gary Oldman played one, but I'm old school like that. The point is - don't be a snotty snot face when it comes to your reading material, like I did.  You might miss out on some awesome.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview with Cinda Williams Chima - SAT WoW!

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. Even more special - this is a WoW! Edition of the SAT - We're Ohio Writers! Yeah - cause we grow 'em here.
Todays guest is New York Times bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima.  Chima began writing romance novels in junior high school. Her HEIR CHRONICLES young adult contemporary fantasy series includes The Warrior Heir (2006), The Wizard Heir (2007), and The Dragon Heir (2008), all from Hyperion, with two more books forthcoming.
Chima’s best-selling YA high fantasy THE SEVEN REALMS series launched with The Demon King (2009), followed by The Exiled Queen (September, 2010) with The Gray Wolf Throne scheduled for fall, 2011. There are four books planned.
Chima’s books have received starred reviews in Kirkus and VOYA, among others. They have been named Booksense and Indie Next picks, an International Reading Association Young Adult Choice, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, to the Kirkus Best YA list, and the VOYA Editors’ Choice, Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and Perfect Tens lists.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
CC: I'm a pantster. I've tried outlining ahead and it just doesn't work for me. Of course, that means there's always lots of revision to be done.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
CC: Depends on what you include. For a first draft, maybe seven months. For everything, a year. I've been publishing a book a year since 2006.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
CC: Before I sold my first novel, I wrote feature articles and essays as well as novel-length fiction. Eventually, I made a conscious decision to focus on fiction and cut back on my freelance work. If you publish a book a year, you are almost always working on two or three things at once--writing the first draft of your next book, editing your previous book with your editor, and the marketing piece, of course.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
CC: Well. I was in third grade and I had a lot of other things to be scared of besides writing. Like monsters under the bed. And dying young. And snakes.

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
CC: Hmm. Well, The Warrior Heir was the first book I finished as an adult, and it was published. However, I do have a humongous high fantasy series that I never finished called THE STAR MARKED WARDER. My current series, THE SEVEN REALMS, is set in that world. So nothing is wasted. And I may yet go back and rework SMW.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
CC: See above. I quit because it hadn't sold in a year, and my other series HAD sold, and I needed to buckle down and write another book in the series that was selling.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
CC: I have had three agents. The first two I found through the query process and my current agent inherited me when my previous agent left the agency. It definitely wasn't through industry connections. I do think conferences can be a great way to meet agents and decide who you want representing your work.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
CC: I went through two different agent search processes. The first time it took me four years to find an agent. The second time was relatively quick. On my last go-round, I sent out 25 letters to targeted agents and had positive responses from two.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
CC: The biggest mistake that I see writers make is focusing too much on the query process and not enough on craft. At the end of the day, it's all about the book. So before you start attending sessions on query letters, marketing, etc., make sure your work is where it should be. I think it took me four years to find my first agent not because my query letters were lacking, but because the work wasn't ready for prime time.
I included the first four pages of my manuscript because I hoped my writing would win them over. And, in this case, it did. Plus the agent that took me on was new to the business. I don't think a veteran agent would have signed up a 250k debut novel. When she wasn't able to sell that, she shopped THE WARRIOR HEIR, which did sell.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
CC: I went out with my critique posse to a bookstore on the on-sale date and found out my book was still in the back room. We made them get them out and put them on the shelf. I've attached a photo of me on that day.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
CC: My editors have always asked me for suggestions as to what could go on the covers, and they run the artwork by me in its various stages. I don't have veto power or anything, but they've always responded to my input. I think the key is to be able to make a case for why you want what you want.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
CC: The most surprising thing was that all my troubles didn't end when I found an agent. And the second surprising thing was that all my troubles didn't end when I found a publisher.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
CC: My publisher's involvement in marketing has grown as my books have gained momentum. Early on, they were great about sending out review copies to librarians and bookstores. They printed advance reading copies and took them to conferences to increase the buzz. More recently, they've arranged appearances at venues like Book Expo and Texas Library Association. For the last two books, they've sent me on tour, which is awesome.
I do as much as I can myself. I have a website and a blog and pages on Facebook for The Heir Chronicles and The Seven Realms series. I don't Twitter--from what I can tell, most of my readers aren't on Twitter, though many of my colleagues are.
I also do school visits and library/conference appearances that I arrange on my own. I think of all the things I do, the website and the social networking pieces are key.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
CC: I think you have to decide upfront where your talents lie and how much time you have for this. Some authors will build a platform by hosting a writing/publishing related blog. I think it's critical to have all that up and running when you publish your first book, but until then, your first priority is sharpening your writing skills. I've always had very challenging day jobs, and I was already getting up at four a.m. and falling asleep on the keyboard at night. I didn't have time for massive platform-building. If you sell a book, you'll usually have about a year's lead time for building that puppy.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
CC: Yes, I do. I don't have any data to support that, though. I think it develops a relationship between you and your readers and helps keep you front-of-mind between books. Plus I enjoy interacting with readers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why YA? Why Now?

For those of you who follow me over at From the Write Angle, you'll know this is a repost.  But it's worth reading twice... right? :)

For a while now it's seemed that YA is the market to be in.  Writers whose usual stomping grounds are certainly not in that arena have been throwing their hat in the ring—Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson and now John Grisham.  Even Rick Riordan, of PERCY JACKSON & THEY OLYMPIANS fame was not originally a YA/MG author.

The market shift can easily be spotted in the changing genre coverage of agents, as well.  At least twice a week I get emails in my inbox from QueryTracker, alerting me to an agent who has expanded their area of interest.  More often than not, they're adding YA to the mix.

It's easy to name the catalysts—J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer—but they wouldn't be household names if people weren't reading the books.  There are plenty of excellent writers with original plots out there—across genres and readership-age—who haven't initiated worldwide culture shifts.

So what gives?  Why did your local Barnes & Noble knock down a wall to expand the teen section?

Recently, I had my college buddies over for yet another Twizzler and Dove chocolate fest.  Books came up, and everyone turned to me for recommendations, since I spend 40 a week surrounded by them.  I tossed off three or four titles, pens started scribbling and I said, "Sorry guys, I just realized everything I'm telling you is YA.  It's pretty much what I'm reading right now."

To my surprise, this group of above-average intelligence, thirty-something women all said, "Oh—us too, it's totally cool."  Since I had a captive audience I picked their brains—why?  Why are adults reading YA?  I have to admit, it's kinda been killing me.  And their answer echoed what I had come up with on my own:

Because we didn't have any.

Readers in my age frame had to leap across a massive gap in our early to late teens.  We went from R.L. Stine to Stephen King, Sweet Valley High to Danielle Steele, Nancy Drew to Kinsey Milhone.  With few exceptions (God bless you Lois Duncan, Judy Blume & Christopher Pike) there wasn't a market for edgy, intelligent YA—definitely not in the numbers we're seeing now.  As a teen, I had to search out titles that interested me in my age range.  As an adult, I'm saturated with YA books in the TBR pile, and the bedstand is hating life.

Teens are reading in massive numbers.  I speak from firsthand experience when I say there has been a major shift in the way pleasure reading is viewed in the high school where I work.  The quarterback is carrying around the same book as the mousey girl with glasses, and he's not trying to hide it underneath a copy of Men's Fitness, either.

Adults are reading those same books.  There's a reason why Sweet Valley was trending on Twitter days after the release of SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL: TEN YEARS LATER. Heck, it's even been released with a super retro cover.  It's 'cause women like me were happily throwing down our college degrees and rolling around in some trash-awesome.  Am I vicariously attempting to recapture my youth?

Or am I trying to fill a fifteen-year-old gap?

BBC Flashes You Again!

As I mention in this post, I am hosting a flash fiction contest starting June 1.  See the linky there for details. I gave a taste of microflash at the bottom of my earlier post, and promised more, (yes, MORE!) and you shall have it.  Again, this one is shorter than most flash - it weighs in at 259 words.  But I'm using it as an example to show that it's quite possible to build characters, setting, plot, tone, heck even backstory - if you make every word count.  I went through a little postmodern period in college - the earlier flash I shared with you, titled "Bood," was written at the same time - in 2002.  This one is "The Vacuum."


  There was a vacuum inside of her in – law’s house.  Had to be.  How else to explain the fact that everything they said came out flat; that their eyes were never quite as bright as hers?  They weren’t aware that it sucked the air from their lungs and the tears off their pupils.  One day it would become too strong, and pull the lenses right off their eyeballs.  She’d have to warn them, if she felt so inclined.


  She’d first noticed it when they were all together, the Christmas tree leaning precariously in one direction because of the slanted floor.  She had spoken a bit of nonsense aloud, to see if it had affected her as well.  It hadn’t.  Her voice had rolled out, strong and sonorous, overtaking the rest of them in a verbal tidal wave made completely of vowels.  Pleased, she’d lapsed into silence and complacently returned the stares of shock, mixed with embarrassment.  


  Her husband told her there was no such thing, told her that she must stop talking about it, must stop testing the walls in the house for weaknesses.  But she wasn’t frightened of what they would think.  She wasn’t afraid of anything other than that vacuum.  


One day she’d have to fill it.  One day she’d open up the linen closet and throw herself in, a sacrifice to please the god of nothingness.  She’d do it when they were all there to see, to know what she’d done for them.  Probably Easter, next Christmas was too long to wait.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Welcome Your Flash - in June

And now I'll follow up on some random information that I suppled in this post. June will indeed be the month of Flash Fiction here on Writer, Writer.  I'm making the grand assumption that most of you are familiar with the idea of flash fiction.  In essence, it's a very, very short story.

There are varying ideas about what qualifies as flash, but for the purposes of the contest here on my blog the rule will be 1,000 words or less.  Tell me a story. Make me care.  In 1,000 words.  Participation rules are:

1) You must follow the blog.  Yes, this is how cults start.
2) You must email me with your story, starting JUNE 1.  If you email me now I'll email you back, telling you it's not June 1.
3) The first 20 people to email me with their flash on JUNE 1 are my participants. You can see the "Email me" link above my followers. Paste your story in the body of the email.
4) All entries will be judged by myself and RC Lewis who runs an excellent blog over at Crossing the Helix.  She also has had her short fiction published in Crossed Genres.  Technically, she's more qualified to judge your short fiction than I am.
5) Winners will get this cool stuff: (two runners up) will get their flash featured here on my blog.  No, it's not the coolest thing that will ever happen to you, but it's a start. The No. 1 Big Fat Winner will get their flash featured on the blog - and a copy of SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH featuring many awesome examples of short fiction, including Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, and edited by George R.R. Martin.  So you're drooling now, right?  Also if anyone is interested, I am still giving away locks of my hair.  Ok not really.  I think the Health Dept. would not be cool with that.

If you've got questions please email me or post in the comments below.  I'll leave you with an example of my own flash.  Technically, this is considered microflash (as in very, very, very short).  Tomorrow I will post yet another example of flash (longer flash, anyway).  Cause I know you're all just setting around waiting for BBC flash.  This one is titled "Bood."

In the end it had been his insistence about phonetics that had ruined them.  The fact that he repeatedly pronounced the “l” in words like “tortilla” and “salmon” pushed her over the edge.  For weeks she had eliminated “l” from her own vocabulary, hoping that somehow this would restore their equilibrium.  It hadn’t been enough.

“Bood,” she said, regarding her previously clean kitchen floor.  “That’s a ot of bood.”  She was amazed at what a sharp knife and a quick downward snap could accomplish.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An SAT with Kirsten Miller - Author of The Eternal Ones

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk.  Kirsten Miller is the author of THE ETERNAL ONES. The sequel, ALL YOU DESIRE will be coming Fall 2011.  She also has a major fan who happens to be one of my students, and Kirsten gamely agreed to answer a few extra questions that an inquiring little mind wanted to ask.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
KM: I’m a panster by nature, but a planner by necessity. My books are too long, labyrinthine, and plot-driven to “wing it.” I learned that lesson with my first novel. These days, I compose very long outlines before I write a word. It’s a process I despise, but in the end, I’m always happy I took the time.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
KM: A first draft typically takes around six months. Revising and editing can take anywhere from an additional three to six months.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
KM: I would rather not multi-task, but it’s unavoidable. The rent must be paid! I’m often editing one book while I’m writing or outlining the next. This will change the minute I win the lottery. Ha.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
KM: I still have to overcome countless fears every time I sit down to write. Self-loathing is a big part of my process. Kidding. Sort of. It took me a long time to realize that writing is—and SHOULD BE—work. Nothing is ever perfect the moment you put it on paper. Every sentence must be tweaked and every paragraph revised. It takes a great deal of patience, which is not a virtue with which I was blessed at birth.

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
KM: None. I always considered myself a short story writer until I wrote my first novel. I do have lots and lots of terrible stories hidden deep in my hard drive. I keep waiting for someone to hack into my computer and expose my secret shame.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
KM: I haven’t “quit,” but I once scrapped over sixty thousand words (200 pages) of a manuscript and started all over from scratch. I just didn’t like what I’d done. (You’ll know the feeling the moment you experience it.) In this business, you’re never going to please everyone. (Believe me.) So it’s very important that YOU are happy with what you’ve done.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
KM: My agent is Suzanne Gluck at WME, the greatest agent in the history of mankind. My career would not be possible without her. I knew one of her clients, and she very kindly agreed to look at an early manuscript of my first book. She loved it, and the rest was history. I thank the universe every single day for that incredible piece of luck.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
KM: See the answer above. And try not to hate me. I don’t experience that kind of luck on a regular basis. I swear.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
KM: It’s a good time to grow a very thick skin. You’ll need it as an author. Just keep in mind that (almost) every single person who has written a book has experienced soul-searing rejection and criticism. From agents, publishers, and readers. But you will eventually find people who love your work, and it will make all the pain worthwhile.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
KM: Terrified. And thrilled. And terrified. I avoided bookstores for a while. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit neurotic?

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
KM: I’m going to answer this question and the next at the same time. I was shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to discover that authors have very little control over the cover art for their books. If you have wonderful publishers and editors (which I do), then you will be invited to express your pleasure or displeasure. However, it is the publisher’s decision, and there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it!

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
KM: See above.

BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 
KM: Most YA authors must tweet and/or blog, I’m afraid. It can be a lot of work. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. My Twitter handle is @Bankstirregular. (I really need to tweet a bit more.) My blog is also called Bank St. Irregular
I do love blogging. My blog reflects my (bizarre) interests and (many) eccentricities. And I enjoy corresponding with the people who visit the site. It’s the best part of being an author.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
KM: I don’t think it’s ever too early to start building your own “brand.” It might even help you attract an agent and publisher.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
KM: I’ve heard a range of different opinions on this subject. I would say yes, but you really have to put in the time and effort. A blog post or tweet once a week isn’t going to do much for anyone.

Questions from My Student! 
BBC: When you were little, did you know you wanted to be a writer?
KM: I always knew I wanted to write, but I never dreamed I’d get published. I figured one of my great-great-grandchildren would discover my scribblings locked away in a dusty old trunk—and hope the compulsion to write weird stories wasn’t a hereditary disorder.

BBC: What books did you read growing up?
KM: Anything and everything. YA literature didn’t really hit its heyday until I was out of college. There were good YA books when I was a kid, of course. (The Westing Game, Lord of the Flies) But there weren’t quite as many. So I read a lot of Stephen King, and I STILL sleep with a light on.

BBC: Did you draw any inspiration from your own experiences when you wrote The Eternal Ones?
KM: This is a question that might get me in a whole heap of trouble. Ha. I grew up in a tiny town in the mountains of North Carolina. Unlike Haven, however, I had a fabulous childhood. I did “borrow” a bit from my hometown. Eden Falls, for example, is based on a real place. But while there are many Appalachian hamlets that are much like Snope City, my hometown doesn’t happen to be one of them.
At seventeen, I got the bright idea to move to New York for college. I guess I must have been much braver (or more foolish) back then. One day, just like Haven, I packed up and left the South for good. I’ve been in New York ever since.
Unfortunately, I’ve never uncovered any proof that I’ve lived other lives. I’m waiting!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Bikini Book

It's that time of year.  Emails and magazine covers are asking me if I've got my bikini body ready.  The short answer: no.  The long answer: I look pretty good with clothes on, but strip me down for the beach and we're looking at razor burn that might need medical attention and dimples in places that aren't so flattering.  My fair Irish skin is pale like a post-mortem Scarlett O'Hara.  Plus - I  tend to break out on the jawline 'cause I rest my chin in my hands while thinking.  That's unrelated to the bikini issue, it's just something I wanted to mention.  (Note to self: don't write your own classified ad, you're far too honest).

To quote Kevin Spacey's disarmingly frank line from American Beauty: "I just want to look good naked."

And that's the trick of the bikini - you're not wearing much, so everything's gotta look good.  You can't cover up those flabby upper arms and hope the push-up bra will be distracting enough.  You can't wear waterproof mascara and assume people are looking at your face.  Everything is up for dissection by the public.

Same goes for your book.

The cover and first chapter are important, like your general silhouette.  You might be able to reel them in, but are they gonna get closer and go for the casual nod instead of engaging?  What if Chapter Two is the equivalent of starting a conversation to find out you've got bad breath?

Too often I hear writers say, "Yeah there's a downswing here but the next scene really picks up."  Or, "I know there's a huge info dump at the beginning but if you can get past that, it's totally awesome."  Right. And the obese chick with a good personality gets all the guys on the beach.

Your book is going to be naked.  Every page is going to be turned (hopefully). Every word will be exposed to an eyeball.

And you can't very well say, "Do me a favor and read this next bit in the dark."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An SAT with Daniel Waters, He of the Attractive Zombies

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 Daniel Waters, author of the GENERATION DEAD series which includes GENERATION DEAD, KISS OF LIFE and PASSING STRANGE.  If you haven't read these books, you're missing out on the freshest (no pun intended) zombie take out there.  This series is so popular with my students that I had my arm twisted into adding a few questions to the normal SAT, which Daniel gamely answered.  And I have to add - are these not the most gorgeous covers you've ever seen?

BBC: There are a lot of parallels between the treatment of "differently biotic" people in Generation Dead and the civil rights movement - zombies sit apart in the lunchroom, Tommy's act of joining the football team is met with a near riot, the public reaction to a Phoebe (a living girl) dating a zombie.  You do a good job of not hitting your point so hard that it's preachy and turns a teen reader off.  Did you purposely write the story to be didactic?  Or would you prefer it just be read for fun?
DW: The literature I have always enjoyed most in my life is that which walks a balance between being fun and escapist and being "deep"; literature (or any art, really) that veers off too sharply to either side is unlikely to interest me.  I definitely wanted to raise moral questions in the book, but I wanted to do so in a framework that was fun and exciting to read--there's a lot in the series that is satirical, and I hope that the humor helps with that.

BBC: Even though zombies are the monster of the moment, the Generation Dead series has a very new and fresh take.  What was your inspiration for the story?
DW: Zombies came later, believe it or not.  The inspiration from the story came directly out of a news magazine show on violence in schools.  The show shoed clips of young people hurting each other, with the main purpose being so that the bullies or/attackers could gain some sort of notoriety by posting the clips on YouTube.  This led me to think about the dozens of root causes for that type of violence--although most of it was completely senseless, much of the violence in schools is directed against kids who are different in some way. From there my mind just latched onto the idea that if zombies existed, they would be the most bullied kids in the school.
In this way, I'm always a little hesitant to confirm (or deny) when someone latches onto the stories as being representative of a particular plight of a marginalized group, because really I tried to underscore a whole host of reasons why people hate on each other rather than create an allegory around a specific issue.

BBC: Did you envision it as a series initially, or did it grow into one?
DW: I knew from the moment I started it would be a series. I knew the exact beginning and I know the ending--which we haven't gotten to, yet.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
DW: As far as process, I'm a combination of both.  I typically start with a core concept, then I will write a chapter or two and work on it for awhile--the first chapter is critical--and from their I'll write a chapter by chapter outline which usually is around 30 pages or so. But the outline is sort of a roadmap that doesn't neccessarily have all of the itinerary plotted on it, so I give myself the freedom to go down a side road.
In terms of carving out writing time, I plan way ahead to give myself nice blocks, but I'm also good at "seizing the moment" and writing a page in the doctor's office or during halftime at my kids' soccer games.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
DW: I usually have a first draft in three or four months, but that is only after the idea has takenroot in my mind.  From there, though, it can take anywhere from a month to a year getting it ready for publication.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
DW: I like to multitask up until the time that a project becomes so exciting to me that it crowds the other ones out of my head.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
DW: Not really.  None of my fears are related to the writing itself (and maybe I'm just blissfully ignorant that way).

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
DW: The weird thing is that I was actually agented right out of college with my first manuscript, but after a couple failed attempts we parted ways after about a year and then I amassed twelve more currently trunked novels over the next fourteen years until I met my agent.  After things didn't work out I stopped submitting my work for awhile--there were other things going on in my life that made me want to avoid rejection!

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
DW: I don't know that I have ever quit on one, although I've set many aside. Always my thought when doing so is "I am not ready or able to do this idea justice--yet".

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
DW: My agent is Al Zuckerman at Writers House.  I was referred to him by one of his current clients, who I called after I received an (unagented) offer from a publisher.  He loved my first chapter, and the things that he pointed out that I'd done wrong in the next couple chapters were so spot on and insightful that I knew I would learn a tremendous amount working with him.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
DW: I kind of skipped this step.  I went to a workshop taught by industry professionals and workshopped my outline and first fifty pages of Generation Dead, and a few months later I had an offer from one of the editors who was teaching.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
DW: Worry about the work first.  In retrospect, I am so, so glad that I stopped submitting my work after my first experience; I never stopped writing, and for many years I wrote without the added burden and pressure of worrying about the business end of things.  When I thought my work was ready, I went out in the world and to a workshop and things happened fairly quickly from there.  Worry about the work first, and then when it is ready, try and go out and meet some industry pros who can maybe cut your curve to publication.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
DW: It felt like validation.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
DW: Disney has kindly run concepts by me; I'm fortunate in that I've loved everything they have done.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
DW: That everything I imagined about how awesome being read has come to pass, and more.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
DW: I happily go wherever my publisher sends me, and I keep my own blog www.danielwaters.com and Tommy from the books keeps a blog at www.mysocalledundeath.com.  There's a Disney driven site at www.gendead.com. I'm on Facebook where I post frequently and my Twitter name is WatersDan but I've yet to tweet.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
DW: I don't know.  I'd love to say just worry about the work and  don't worry about a platform unless building it is something you find fun, but then I hear that it is increasingly attractive to publishers if an author helps push the product.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
DW: My readership?  Maybe.  There are many who do it far better than I do and I sometimes wish I had their personality and drive and ability to connect with people directly, which is something I think I struggle with is both real and virtual life.  I try to overcome my personality shortfall by offering free content through the character blog; it isn't by accident that Tommy's blog has something like 6 times the followers mine does.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Refreshing Honesty

I got pulled over this morning.  First time ever.  No lie - I'm 32 and I've never seen those lights go flishy-flash in the rear view.  I knew I was busted the second he swung out behind me by the predatory nature of the grill on his car.

You'll notice by the blog title that I consider lying an integral part of my occupation - but that's the only place it comes into play.  I find the taxing work of making shit up doesn't translate into real life.  I am one of those honest people that you either love or want to punch in the face.

So my conversation this morning went like this:

Officer: Morning - do you know why I pulled you over?
Mindy: I was speeding.
Officer: You were doing 50 in a 35.
Mindy: Wow, that's really bad.
Officer: (blinks and pauses) That could be a high fine, you realize.
Mindy: I'd deserve it.
Officer: Any particular reason you're in a hurry today?
Mindy: Nope, I'm just driving too fast.

And he let me go.  I'll add that he cited my flawless driving record and the fact that the limit had *just* changed as I was rolling into the town limits as the reason, but I think he appreciated my honesty, too.  It's gotta be refreshing for our men and women in the cruisers when somebody says, "Yeah I screwed up," without the excuses and complaints.

So anyway - use our mutually shared gifts of spinning the stories for good, and keep those creative skills on the far side of the brain in the day-to-day.  You never know when some old-fashioned honesty might benefit you.

And lastly - belated B-day wishes and a big congrats goes out to Ms. Riley Redgate!  She guessed correctly that while Mary Kole does in fact live above a burger joint, she is not a vegetarian.  For her impressive efforts at sorting the truth from fiction she gets a copy of GENERATION DEAD by Daniel Waters.

A new SAT is going up tomorrow!  Stay tuned - and drive safe :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Interview with Mary Kole on the BBCHAT

Today BBCHAT continues! Bigblackcat's Humane Agent Talk: In Which A Particularly Agreeable Agent Answers a Series of Questions that Have Nothing to do with Queries or Submission Guidelines. Yeah, don't try to make an acronym out of that last bit.

The BBCHAT is designed to get the personality of the agent in the spotlight, and an enterprising querier can use this information to figure out if the agent is a good fit for them, rather than just another agent who happens to cover their genre.

The last question involves something that oddly resembles a contest, and ties in with the blog name. Note the rules: to participate you need to follow the blog (so include your screenname in the email so that I can identify you), and your answer must come in an email to me, not a post in the comments section. First person to email me with the correct answer wins. You'll notice the "email me" link above my followers box to the right. Or maybe you won't notice it. In which case, you'll be totally flummoxed.

Today's guest is the highly affable Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, whose blog - KidLit - is a treasure trove of information on the market, the industry, and highly helpful hints for aspiring writers. KidLit also serves as an excellent resource for those burning query questions; many of Mary's posts address our insecurities as querying writers and how to overcome that first hurdle.  It's a must see - don't miss out!

BBC: What are you reading right now and why do you like it?
MK: I'm taking a small break from children's and YA and reading a lot of food and cookbooks, because I'm also starting to represent food memoir and other food-related titles. So right now I'm reading the MOMOFUKU cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan actually. And yes, I do read them cover to cover, like novels. I love the no-nonsense voice here. 

BBC: Paper or plastic?
MK: Plastic for manuscripts and full requests, paper for curling up and really reading. I'm still very much a print fan.

BBC: What's on your bucket list?
MK: Mostly places to go and things to eat. I want to go to Australiza, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, India, Tibet, Africa, Brazil, Spain, Japan, and China. (Not that I want to be any closer to the bucket, but I'll be hitting up some of those locations later this year.) I also want to eat at a Ferran Adria restaurant, meet Lady Gaga, cook in a professional kitchen (again), publish a book, and go on an epic American road trip. I'm not really into danger junkie stuff like skydiving...I'd rather stay inside the plane and let it take me somewhere interesting. :)

BBC: Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull?
MK: It's funny...I went to Texas a few weeks ago and got a tattoo, which was on my bucket list. My colleague, Jenn Laughran, is impossible to faze. When I sent her a picture of my ink, she immediately wrote back, "Yeah, but did you ride a mechanical bull?" Since it was Texas and all. Ha! I haven't...it seems like a great way to break your neck.

BBC: What type of agent are you?
 a) Cheerleader
 b) Therapist
 c) Bushwhacking Guide
 d) Red Ink Saturation Committee Member
MK: All of the above. If you can't cheer for your clients, you're with the wrong clients. And the creative process is fraught, so you have to be willing to play therapist...and enjoy it. I'm not sure what you mean by bushwhacking guide, but it sounds intense! As for editorial work, I am highly, highly editorial. Clients have fired me for my really high standards. It's true that I will not go out with something unless it is absolutely the strongest it can be. But I want clients who strive for that standard too, so my best agent/client matches can understand why I go so heavy on the editorial and why I am so strategic in planning submissions.

BBC: If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?
MK: This is a really great question. I'd love to find an amazing, off-the-wall voice, a contemporary realistic story that's really dark, and an intensely emotional experience like Natalie Standiford's HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT. Today's marketplace is finally coming back around to contemporary realistic.  That's how I got into YA reading, so that's exactly what I'd want to place without the guys in sales and marketing pushing back on the acquisition.

BBC: Tell me three things about yourself, one of them being a LIE! First person to email me with the correct guess as to the lie gets... something awesome.
MK: 1)I'm a Google employee.
2) I once shared a plane with Vanilla Ice on a flight to Minneapolis.
3) I live above a burger joint and I'm a vegetarian.