Thursday, June 30, 2011

C'Mon Baby, Do the WoCoMoMo!

July - it creepeth upon us! Tomorrow is the official kick-off of WoCoMoMo here on WriterWriter - Word Count Motivational Month, where some of my awesome followers gamely share their weekly word counts to see if they can write more than me. At the end of the month, the person with the highest cumulative word count gets an awesome prize - if its bigger than mine.

I've really waffled on giving you guys specific criteria for everything, so I'm going to do that now.

1) My participants will keep track of their daily totals on their own - no need to tell me what's up with you everyday. Not that I don't care. Really.

2) On FRIDAYS email me (use the *email me* link above the followers section) with your weekly word counts and I will post them on the blog for comparison. Now, if you're really, truly embarrassed about your lack of word vomit for the week, let me know and I won't post your totals. But remember, public humiliation is good for the soul, and the whole point of this is to in fact, motivate you.

3) Word count can come from any literary pursuit you're working on at the time. Got two WIP's? Cool. Cranking out short stories? Great. The only thing I'm asking you not to count is blog posts, because hey - I'm not going to.

Alright - here's my current list of participants. If I missed you, please let me know. Since you guys are totally awesome about following directions I think a grand total of maybe two of the participants actually emailed me to tell me they wanted to participate. At least one person demonstrated their interest by writing in shaving cream on my lawn.

OK, that last bit was a lie.

In any case, please do email your word count totals to me instead of other routes of communications, mostly to keep things slightly easier for me to keep track of. Unless this is part of your nefarious plot, my followers? Make WoCoMoMo unmanageable and distract BBC from her WIP? Well, I've got news for you - it takes much, much less than that to distract me. Much le - oh look, a BIRD!!

WoCoMoMo Participants (there's still time to join, if you want in!)

Suzanne P.
Lanette K.
Matt S.
Tansy
RC Lewis (and believe me, you should all be intimidated by that)
Marin R.
Cat W. (I've got you as a possible, Cat)
MarcyK (I know you're missing the 1st week MK, so if you really don't want to, it's cool)

If I missed anyone, please let me know. And remember, any follower can play - email me and let me know that you'd like to get motivated for the month of July!

A Guest Post on Writing WisDUMB

I'm madly writing the sequel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK, so some of my ultra-helpful talented e-friends over at AgentQuery took me up on an invitation to guest post here on the blog.


My first guest is Michelle Simkins (M_Simkins to AQ'ers), who runs a wonderfully eclectic blog over at Greenwoman and tweets from @MichelleSimkins.  You should follow her.  She RT's me. :)  Michelle decided to write a post about writing advice.  BAD writing advice, or as she calls it - WisDUMB.

You know, there's a lot of advice for writers out there. You could spend ALL of your time "learning how to write" and never get a single word on the screen or on paper. The thing is--who ARE these people giving this advice? Do they know what they're talking about? Have you read their writing? Is it any good? The internet gives everyone a platform, but it does not make everyone an expert. In other words: there's a lot of bad advice out there, y'all.

For the most part I've been lucky in the writing advice I've received. I had (mostly) good teachers in high school and college who gave me a wealth of useful information on the craft of writing (No, really, they were great. Anything wrong with my writing is ALL MY FAULT). But I've received a few pieces of very silly advice over the years. Here are my top four (or would that be BOTTOM four?):

1. Don't use semicolons. After I read this comment in a critique from a writing coach, I wondered, "Is she telling me this because I'm using them WRONG?" So I asked The Chicago Manual of style. I was using the semicolon correctly. I'm not sure where my instructors punctuation prejudice came from. She was, in all other respects, a sensible woman with very sound advice.
I think punctuation marks, like vocabulary, are valuable tools when used appropriately. Of course moderation should be practiced, but sometimes nothing but a semicolon will do. Roy Peter Clark, author of The Glamour of Grammar (which I highly recommend), describes the semicolon as "a gate that stands between two thoughts, a barrier that forces the separation but invites you to pass through to the other side." When a period is too much, but a comma isn't enough, I reach for my semicolon.
In the grand scheme of things, "don't use semicolons" isn't an especially horrible piece of advice. But I'm wary of any advice that tells me not to use one of the weapons in my arsenal.

2. Write what you know. We've all heard it, haven't we? But I think it's a load of horse pucky. You want me to write what I know? What I know is working dead-end clerical jobs and spending too much time on the internet. If I write what I know, it will be therapy, not fiction. YES, I think you need to have a life outside of fiction to write fiction that feels real. YES, I think you need to do your research if you don't want to sound like an idiot. YES, I think it's a good idea to infuse your fiction with real-life details from your own experiences and the experiences of people you know. But in my opinion, if you want to actually finish that novel, and have people read it with pleasure? Write what you love. You can learn what you need to know.

3. Write something meaningful. To be honest, I'm not sure if this advice was given to me by someone else, or if I made it up myself. But during my adolescence I got this idea that if you're going to write, it should serve a PURPOSE.
While it's GREAT to want to make the world a better place, you will kill your novel if you try to force your agenda on it. Whether you want to entertain, raise awareness of kitten abuse, or suggest a cure for cancer, your first duty as a novelist is to tell a good story. If your story sucks, your message will NOT hit home, no matter how sincere your intentions. If you sacrifice good storytelling for a message, you fail as a writer AND you fail your cause. Sure, there is truth in fiction. A lot of delightful novels are thought provoking and explore important issues. But the thoughts and explorations should evolve organically out of a good story. Put the story first, and its truth will shine through in the end.

4. Eliminate all distractions when you work! INTENSE FOCUS IS THE ONLY WAY.
You know what happens when I eliminate all distractions? I get bored. out. of. my. mind. And I abandon whatever I'm working on.
This might not be true for everyone, but it's certainly true for me: Distractions help me get more done. Not just in writing, but in all areas of life. I can focus very, very intensely on something . . . for about 15 to 30 minutes at a time. Then I need to come up for air, look around, Tweet something silly, check my email, sweep the floor, something. Often my distraction is as brief as clicking on my Gmail tab to see if I have a new email, but it's kind of essential. It's like blinking or something.
Maybe I'm weird. Maybe I have undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder. Maybe it's a nervous tension/anxiety thing. Maybe it's just a product of growing up with television (though I didn't watch very much of that) or maybe I'm spoiled by the internet, I don't know. But I do my best work when I have something pleasant to distract me every so often.
That said, I have trouble working in really noisy environments, and (I know everyone will find it shocking) I can't work when my kids are having an argument in my immediate vicinity. So if the advice were re-worded as "Choose your distractions carefully"? Then it would be golden

So what about you? What's the worst advice (or the funniest, or silliest) you've ever heard? I'm nosy. I want to know.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why A Fresh Query Is Like A Boob Job

Unfortunately, I think we've all been there. Your query has been flying to agent inboxes for months, maybe years, with nothing but form rejections coming back. The occasional partial or full request might get your heart pumping, but a few weeks later you get that email that says, "Nice try, SUCKA!!!"

And you know what? You knew that was going to happen. You're at the point where even seeing an email from an agent in your inbox with the subject line RE: QUERY - MY OVERWORKED MS doesn't put butterflies in your stomach so much as bile. You know it's a rejection, you know because your request rate has dipped like that heart monitor on a zombie. There's no life in there.

So what do you do? Feel sorry for yourself for a bit, definitely. Commiserate with some crit partners, sure. Give up and die? Well... lets not do that quite yet.

Was that story the only one you have in you? If it was, then sorry, you're not a writer. Maybe you thought this was THE ONE, the story that would break down walls and land you on the cover of... something. But it's not looking good, so what else is in there? Have you been writing, or sending off emails to agents with your fingers crossed and pre-patting yourself on the back?

Hopefully you've been writing, 'cause that WIP might be your saving grace. Take it from me - my first YA ms had been on the query path for two years, and had racked up over 130 rejections. Yeah, you read that right. Reality had sidelined me from writing anything new for awhile, so I was going the "crossed fingers" route. Not particularly helpful, or productive.

I was also feeling sorry for myself, which is about as productive as planting seeds and watering them with Roundup.

So I wrote a new story, scripted a fresh query and got request rates that had my head spinning.  I had an agent within a month.

Jogging out the old ms with a tired query is like squeezing yourself into last year's jeans and hitting the town looking for that special-someone. You've got some muffin-top going on, your lipstick is feathering cause it expired six months ago, and your roots are showing cause you can't be bothered to buy a new bottle of hair dye.

A fresh query makes you feel like you just went to the salon, had your teeth whitened, and got a boob job all in the same day. You feel like people are looking.

And that feels good.

If you're looking to get that fresh query out there to provide wheels for the WIP, check out my fellow From The Write Angle contributer Calista Taylor's post on Query Writing 101.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with Alan Gratz - SAT!

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk.  Alaz Gratz is the author of SAMURAI SHORTSTOP and THE BROOKLYN NINE, as well as SOMETHING ROTTEN and SOMETHING WICKED - modern retellings of Shakespearean plays, featuring the classy and intelligent teen detective Horatio Wilkes.  Seriously my readers, if you think I'M funny, you've got to check this guy out.  I was inspired and depressed when I read his Horatio books - the first because I had something to aspire to, the latter because I knew I could never be as funny as him.

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

BBC: SOMETHING ROTTEN and SOMETHING WICKED focus on modern retellings of famous Shakespearean plays.  What prompted you to take this approach - something you saw happening in the market, or was this an idea that sprang freshly from the gray matter?
AG: This definitely wasn't a market-driven idea. In fact, it's something I'd been toying around with for almost fifteen years. Not that whole time, of course, but I'd first had the idea to retell Hamlet as a murder mystery back in college, during a Detective and Mystery Fiction writing course I took. There have certainly been a lot of re-tellings of classics of late, but the Horatio books ended up just being part of that trend, not a response or reaction to it. I think it's kind of dangerous to look at something that's trending in the moment and then try to write for that trend. Things take so long in publishing that IF you sell it, by the time finally comes out the trend may be long past--or worse, readers and reviewers may even be jaded and react negatively to another book in the already passe trend.


BBC: The Horatio Wilkes series are hilarious.  I literally LOL'ed at a few points while reading, and I don't do that.  Ever.  Do you find it easier as a writer to make people laugh, as opposed to other emotions?
AG: Thanks! I'm glad they made you laugh. I think making readers laugh is very difficult. I'd say that I tear up at stories far often than I laugh, because I think it's easier to do tragedy than it is to do comedy. Comedy is hard. There are so many factors involved, and people's tastes in comedy are so varied. With Horatio, my main goal was never write him "easy." That is, if he's describing something big, I didn't just want to say big. I wanted to use a colorful metaphor. If he thinks someone is stupid, I didn't want to just have him SAY that person was stupid. I wanted his take on the world to be unique--and I think that's where a lot of the humor came in. I couldn't do it for every sentence, of course--that would get tedious--but I tried to make sure we didn't go too long without having Horatio say something clever. :-)

BBC: Can we expect more from Horatio?  
AG: Unfortunately, no. The sales on the first two books were never what I or my publisher hoped. I actually sold a third idea to them--the book was going to be Something Foolish, and be a mash-up of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Maltese Falcon--but I got the call a month or two back that the book is officially canceled. The book isn't written, or I would release it as an e-book for the folks who've asked me about a third volume. So, live and learn! I love the books, and I love Horatio, but this one didn't break out.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
AG: I'm definitely a planner. I outline all my books in full, chapter by chapter, before I ever write the first word. I know other authors who can't--and won't--do that, but it's the system that works best for me. It takes me a long time to hammer out a plot and then flesh out an outline, but I find that frees me up to be more creative in the writing of the book. I have a lot of young authors ask me how to beat writers block. I tell them that when you sit down with a blank screen or a blank page without an outline, you're trying to do two things: 1) figure out what happens (plot); and 2) figure out how to tell the story (sentences, images, metaphors, etc.). That's two very different, and very difficult things! Break those into two steps. Figure out WHAT happens first, then figure out HOW to tell it. That's what I do, and it works very well for me.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
AG: The Horatio books took me about a year of writing, including the back-and-forthing with my editor. If the novel has a lot of research, that changes things. SAMURAI SHORTSTOP and THE BROOKLYN NINE, for example, took me nearly two years each.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
AG: I'm usually working on just one project full time, but I'm always thinking ahead to what's next. So you could say I'm in the planning stages for one book while I'm in the writing stage of another. Once I tried to outline one while I was writing another, and I found my attention too divided. Now I just do the brainstorming for what's next in the odd hours during a writing project, but I always want to be able to hit the ground running with What's Next.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
AG: Well, I certainly suffer from the same fear many writers have, that I am not good enough. That I'm a hack. That I can't do this. But I've been writing since I was a kid. It's in the blood. I can't stop. So I just kept writing until I got good enough to sell something. And that took a while! (And a lot of manuscripts buried in the file cabinet.) I still have these fears, even as a published author. I don't think they will ever go away. If they do, I think I'll be in worse trouble...


BBC: How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
AG: I wrote a bad college novel that was never sent out. It was a valuable exercise, and my first novel-length attempt, but it was bad, and I knew it. But that's one in the trunk, as you say. Much later, when I was a better, more dedicated writer, I wrote two books that I liked and sent out and collected rejection letters on before I wrote and sold SAMURAI SHORTSTOP. And I sold it through the slush pile; I was unagented at the time.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
AG: I have quit on manuscripts, yes. Unfortunately, not before at least one full draft was done. I suppose I know it's time only when other people tell me it's time. When I get feedback on a manuscript that matches my own fears about it, and if I think I cannot (or don't want to) rewrite it with the changes that would be necessary to sell it, I punt. I have too many of these manuscripts in my file cabinet, though.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 
AG: I was unagented when I sold SAMURAI SHORTSTOP. I subsequently got an agent, but that turned out to be a very poor fit, and we parted ways. I then sold two more books on my own--SOMETHING ROTTEN, and THE BROOKLYN NINE--before I was introduced to Barry Goldblatt in Brooklyn via a writer friend who was one of his clients. I had begun to think it was time to start looking for an agent again, so the timing was right, and Barry was the right fit. He's terrific for me.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent? 
AG: I was unagented when I sold my first book. I tried agencies as well as editors with the first book I sent out, but the agency responses were form letter nos, if I got responses at all. The editorial rejections were often personal, and more positive: stuff like, "We like this, but we just did a book with super heroes, so no." Or, "We like the characters, but not the story," or vice versa, often with an invitation to submit whatever I wrote next. So I stopped subbing to agents and just went for editors. I was shopping three different books with editors when I made the sale on SAMURAI SHORTSTOP to Dial. I'd say, off hand, that I had been rejected close to 40 or 50 times all told, between all three books, before Samurai sold.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
AG: It's persistence. Seriously, that's all there is to it. Each rejection feels like a punch in the gut, whether it's your first or your fiftieth. It's whether you get up off the mat and take another swing that matters. Eventually you're going to connect. Query in batches of six or eight, be clear you're conducting simultaneous submissions, keep a spreadsheet of what you sent and when you sent it, and every time you get a rejection, send a new one out. It's as easy (and as painful) as that. When I began subbing for publication, I lived within walking distance of the post office--and that was a walk I did A LOT.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
AG: Pretty amazing. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and the day it officially went on sale we drove all over town hitting bookstores to look for it. And of course it wasn't on the shelves! It's not like I had some strict, big-deal lay-down date, so even if the books were in the shop, they were on a table or in a bin in the backstock area, waiting to be shelved. But they started turning up, eventually, and my friends and family all sent pictures of "Samurai Sightings," which was pretty incredible. Getting that big box of books delivered the first time in a book's life is pretty great too.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
AG: Zero. :-)

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
AG: Just how hard it is for books to get noticed. That's the biggest challenge facing any author, I think. Obscurity.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 
AG: I try to do as much social media marketing as I can. I have a blog, an author web site, I'm on Twitter I'm on Facebook. I've begun to blog far less though. I used to try to blog every day, or almost every day, and then I began to think my time might be far better spent just getting more writing done. Since last winter that's been my attitude, and my blogging has suffered. I'm not sure it matters, frankly. (On the blogging end, that is. As for my writing, I've certainly gotten more done.) For my earlier books I bought postcards and sent them to groups and media I thought would be interested, but I've never been able to quantify what kind of impact they had. I think every author ought to have a sort of media kit on his or her web site--author pic, cover scans, bio--but that's about all you need. More important is getting out and meeting librarians, teachers, booksellers, and, of course, when you can, kids.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
AG: If by "build a platform" you mean create a web site, do it before. Present yourself as professional before you ARE professional. I had an author site up with info about me and my projects before they had ever sold, and I put that link on all my query letters. We live in an age of Googling to learn more. If an editor is interested in me, I want her to be able to learn more when she Googles me. Where I live, what I like, who I am as a person. That's what social media--and social media marketing--is all about, I think. It's less about the product and more about the person behind it.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
AG: I don't think it builds it, but I do think it maintains it, if that makes any sense. People have to find me the old fashioned way--through word of mouth or through stumbling across my books on a shelf. Then they follow me online, and I maintain that connection they already made with me. A SMALL bit of word of mouth may happen through social networking, but I think most readers still find me first in the real world.
Since you ask so much about it, I'll just add that my impression of social marketing and networking is that it's valuable--and perhaps obligatory in today's age--but that it can very easily eat up more time than it's worth. Finding that balance is key. When you're starting out, it's important to become part of that community. Necessary? No. Advantageous? Certainly. But you've also got to put in the work of writing a good book. As long as you can do both, you're golden. :-)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Favorite Flash

I'm pleased to announce the winner of the June contest for flash fiction here on WriterWriter is follower Michelle Simkins! For her efforts, Michelle wins a copy of SONGS OF LOVE & DEATH, a fantastic collection of short stories edited by George R.R. Martin, and including stories from Jim Butcher, Diana Gabaldon and Neil Gaiman. Thanks to all who participated - fellow judge RC Lewis and I had a hard time making our decisions! Here is Michelle's flash, "Cruelty-Free."

CRUELTY-FREE

This is not my morning. I'm running late for Introduction to Faerie Combat, the latest rain shower just plastered my hair to my skull, the iron poker sticking out of my backpack keeps banging me in the back of the head, and I can barely read the handwriting on my class schedule. As if that wasn't enough, I'm pretty sure something is following me: if I had the sight, I'd be able to tell if it was something under an invisibility glamour. But no, I had to get stuck with unreliable prophetic visions instead.
I finally reach Building 6 as the shower ends. When I stumble through the door (which creaks loudly, of course), 17 blank faces turn my way. 17 pairs of eyes scan me, and then dismiss me.
"You are not Ronald Hayes," the instructor says.
The light glints off her fangs. They are very white and very sharp. I notice that all the windows are completely covered. And that 9 of the 17 students in the room are vampires. The other 8 appear to be human. I wish for the second time today that I had the sight.
I wonder why vampires would take a Faerie Combat class.
I clear my throat. "No. I'm Carrie Manchester."
She shrugs. "Well, we have an empty chair. Take a seat."
My wet sneakers squelch loudly on the linoleum as I walk to my seat. All the vampires are dry; I wonder how they got here in the daylight. There must be a tunnel or something. Of course they are all perfectly groomed, even though it's the middle of their night. Sometimes I hate vampires.
I drop my backpack on the floor, and the iron poker thumps on the linoleum and then makes a louder clang when the top of it hits my chair leg. Why couldn't I have found a rail spike or something?
"All right." The professor only looks at the vampires as she speaks--it's like the humans aren't even in the room. "Welcome to Cruelty-Free Feeding. Most of you are here because you wish to seek a career path that frequently brings you into contact with mainstream human society, and you need to be able to drink from humans without draining them."
Wait . . . what? I raise my hand. The teacher ignores me and continues talking.
"We have a collection of volunteers present to help us practice exercising control when we feed. Be aware that I am armed with Rowan and will not hesitate to use it on you if you don't stop when you are told. The stakes were blessed by a priest, a rabbi, a fundamentalist preacher, and a buddhist monk. Even a non-fatal blow will leave you in pain for weeks, and will run the risk of serious infection. I have a perfect safety record in my classes, and you will not ruin it."
I wave my hand. She keeps ignoring me. I'm just about to jump up when I feel a vision coming on; the room tilts and my head starts to spin. I grip the edge of my desk and see the door to the classroom opening, and a man bursting into the classroom with a flame thrower. He sets the teacher (and the teacher's desk) on fire. The human students--all except me--jump up and rip the black-out curtains off the windows or produce stakes from backpacks and pockets. Flames crackle, blood splatters the desks and walls. The vampires retaliate by ripping out throats and breaking bones, but the sunlight and fire reduce them to piles of ash.
I don't realize I'm screaming until the vision clears. The room has gone quiet, and everyone is looking at me now. I want to shrink into my seat, but I never know how long it will be before a vision comes true. And though I might resent the vampires' perfect grooming, I'm not willing to let them be slaughtered.
They probably won't listen to me if I talk, so I jump up and grab the messenger bag of the student next to me, tipping it upside down before he can protest.
A dozen Rowan stakes, a vial of holy water and a crucifix clatter onto my desk.
"Someone is coming with a flame thrower," I say. "He was following me through the woods. I don't know how long you have. They're all in on it."
The classroom erupts. The vampires all jump for the humans, and I wish I'd thought more carefully before I acted. I'd rather nobody died today. Fortunately the teacher's hiss freezes the vampires before they hurt anyone. I don't blame them--I wouldn't mess with her either.
"You," she says to me. "Wait by the door with that ridiculous poker. Looks like you'll get to use it this afternoon after all."
I nod, grab my poker, and assume the position.
"As for you," she says to the humans. "Out the back door right now. And if you aren't far away by sunset, I'm going to let my students track you down."
They're all white and shaking. The instructor doesn't have to tell them twice; they scurry.
The back door has barely shut when the door beside me opens and the man with the flame thrower jumps through. I whack his hands with the poker, making him drop the metal nozzle and trip over the fuel hose. The professor is on him before he hits the floor, picking him up by his shoulders.
She smiles, and I'm glad she's not smiling at me.
"So nice of you to join us today," she says to the man. "Have a seat. I have some questions for you."
I slip out the door while everyone is looking at the man. I suspect that Cruelty-Free Feeding is about to lose it's perfect safety record.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Results of Flashing BBC - 2nd and 3rd Places

Thanks to everyone who participated in the flash contest here on WriterWriter for the month of June. The entries were so varied as to tone and flow that fellow judge RC Lewis and I had to do some serious debating back and forth before we settled on our placers. Check by tomorrow for your first place winner! And now, for your enjoyment, in 3rd place we have some flash fiction from follower AM Supinger, with her story, "Star."

STAR

The woods were quiet and damp as Nevo crawled through the leaves on the ground. The road in front of her was dark and moonlit, but a shiver went up her spine as she glanced both ways.

She needed to get away, leave this evil place behind. A madman wanted her and she had no intention of being found.

With only an owl's hoot breaking the silence, she scooted back. She'd gotten ten paces from the road when the unpaved stones glinted strangely. She froze. A light bloomed nearby, a blue-white blaze unlike any fire Nevo had ever seen. In panic, she scrambled into the woods, a sharp buzzing sound hounding her footsteps.

She stumbled when a tree root reached up and latched on to her knee, imprisoning her with splintering tentacles. She fell. One frantic glance behind her stole the last bit of air in her chest.

A star was falling towards her.

It's bright light illuminated the gloomy quiet of the woods, and Nevo ducked her head in fear. Her gasps brought little comfort to her frantic body. With instinct raging in her veins, she fought her way free of the enchanted tree and fled the light.

The darkness was no more comfort than water to a drowning man, but Nevo never stopped. The shadows beckoned and concealed. Several times the star zoomed overheard; its trail of glittering iridescence was enticing, but she puffed out heavy breaths and focused on the mud clinging to her bare toes.

When she could run no more, and pre-dawn lit the sky with purple bruises, she collapsed. In her moment of weakness the star appeared and hovered over her. In its depths she felt the madman's eyes, and when it hurled towards her she heard his laughter. The blue-white light was neither hot nor cold, but some of both, and it plunged its painful core inside her chest, burrowing out between her shoulder blades.

Before death claimed her eyes, the sky bled red.


And in 2nd place, we have follower Riley Redgate, with her story, "Prudence and Impudence."


PRUDENCE AND IMPUDENCE
She stands alone in the parking lot beside the baseball stadium. She doesn’t know what she’s waiting for.
Something lands gently in her hair. Her frail hands shake as she extracts it.
In the harsh white floodlights, the prominent veins of her hands appear carved of marble, and the small item in her palm shimmers like platinum. Roughly the size and shape of a cornflake, it quivers in the breeze.
“What’s this?” Prudence whispers to herself. “What’s this—”
Another lands in her outstretched hand.
She shifts, her sandals scuffling on the cracked concrete of the parking lot. Her neck creaks backward, tilting her face toward the sky. The clouds are a roiling dark sea, but those six sets of floodlights leach away the darkness. A centipede of pale lightning scuttles across the rumbling underbelly of the sky.
Prudence’s blue eyes flash behind her spectacles.
She blows into her palm, and the two flakes flutter away, lost in eddies of spiraling wind.
The lightning slashes once more. It illuminates something huge in the sky, electrifies a vibrating structure high above that rattles with the thunder. This structure is arched, Gothic; the base drips with rusting filigree; the upper echelon of its architecture glimmers like new steel.
Prudence takes a step, the breath catching in her throat. Then the toe of her sandal snags an edge of the pavement. She falls. Her knee hits the stone first. Her palms follow, tearing and bloodying, and she sprawls out. Her spectacles skitter from her eyes.
She is too feeble to stand, but she rolls onto her back. Somehow, without her spectacles, she sees everything more clearly—a bridge, rising from the depths of one cloud, latching onto the brink of another. Steel cords lace the spiky iron peaks together, and lightning twines over those cords, stripping the metal coating from them, casting that metal down in flakes.
The scraps flutter and twirl. They are like snowflakes in a harsh wind.
Minutes pass, and the storm rages on— thunderclap after thunderclap echo off the bridge in the sky. Silver flakes slowly coat Prudence’s body. She is a receptacle for the electricity in the air. She is a mirror for the bridge.
The final car pulls out of the parking lot, its driver ignorant of everything above his opaque truck ceiling.
Beyond the fence, above the field, the floodlights slam off one by one.
Prudence’s eyes fill with wonder. In the afterglow of the artificial light, the lightning looks ever more effervescent, ever more perilous. Sparking from the heavens like a stream of starlight. Light. I must know about light.
But science has not yet answered Prudence’s questions.
In the liquid properties of light lies depth—
And in the liquid properties of light lies energy—
And in the liquid properties of light lies godlessness—
But what lies in depth?
In energy?
In godlessness?
Do I lie in godlessness for wondering?
A blinding column of lightning tears through the air and engulfs her body.
The silver coating on her skin blasts away, hovering for a split second in the sea of electricity. Then it is whisked upward.
The crackling heat does not relent. The wrinkles in Prudence’s skin smooth and melt. Her clothes fry, char and flutter away. She curls up like a child, her hair blistering and tearing from her every follicle, and as the lightning fades, she cries. Lightning is not supposed to act this way, and she should not be alive.
Science cannot answer Prudence’s questions.
How am I alive?
Do I lie in godlessness for wondering?
Then a dark shadow topples from the bridge.
It thrusts wings out and flaps them mightily. It descends, beating the sky back stroke by powerful stroke, and where its feet finally brush the asphalt, ice forms.
It brushes a hand over Prudence’s forehead. Thick golden hair flushes itself from her scalp. The cataracts fade from her eyes, and she stands, strong, young, tall, naked.
Science will never ask Prudence’s questions.
Can I hope to come with you?
Her tears mar the next question. Do I lie in godlessness for wondering?
The angel has a voice that is neither here nor there. It speaks neither words nor images; neither emotion nor action. Its wings are everything and nothing, flickering from marble to wind to spiderweb to clay to brilliant gold.
“No; you cannot hope,” it whispers, “because hope is the question that faith cannot answer.”
Prudence does not feel naked. She does not feel bashful. She does not feel hesitant.
She finally knows what she is waiting for.
“Come with me, and hope for nothing,” breathes the angel into her ear. If the angel were less beautiful, it would be nearly sensual. But it is too perfect for her to desire it. “No, Prudence, do not hope. Believe, instead.”
She grasps onto its wings, which have transformed into spindly, twisted, mechanical fingers. They groan and creak and grind into action.
The two figures rise together, clawing into the sky, leaving the corpse of Prudence on the pavement, and mortality beneath that, and concrete beneath that. And, far beneath that, they leave the answers to questions that were wrong from the very beginning. Questions that will be wrong until the end.

Friday, June 24, 2011

An FYI, A Reminder & Your Own SAT Questions

There were a lot of curious people wanting to know what was the truth and which were the lies in the Jennifer Laughran BBCHAT. Today is the day that your curious minds are satiated. Follower Jess Lawson was the lucky winner who guessed the Jennifer did NOT go to boarding school in Switzerland - which means everything else is true. Yes, she really is that interesting.

For her efforts, Jess won a copy of MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jaclyn Dolamore, one of Jennifer's clients. Jackie's Successful Author Talk (SAT) interview can be found here, and my review of MAGIC UNDER GLASS is here. And while we talking about Jackie - I won an embellished copy of MAGIC, and an ARC of her newest title BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY. So, expect another review soon. I usually refrain from fan girl behavior, but this lady can write.

And guess what else is going on in the world? It's almost July, and if you recall this post, you know what that means - WoCoMoMo, baby! July is Word Count Motivational Month here on WriterWriter. What the hell does that mean? It means that you'll be competing with me to see if you can write more than me within that month. Starting July 1, email me to let me know you'd like to be included in the word fest. I'll post weekly totals here on the blog, and I also log my daily accomplishments in the Writing Odometer group over at Agent Query. At the end of the week I'll open up the floor for the participants to email me their word count for the week and I'll compare our stats in a end-week post. If you want to play, but don't want your stats published that's fine, you can email me and say, "I was lazy this week, but don't tell anybody." Be nice and don't lie, it's kind of the honor system, but backed by the fact that my people are always watching you. If you do write more than me, congrats, you win something. If more than one person writes more then me, the person with the highest word count turnout for the month wins something.

And finally, I've got some great new SAT participants lined up. So I'm curious - I've been running the SAT since March, and mostly I ask questions that I want to know the answer to. But what about you guys? What do you want to ask agented, published authors about their journey or process? Respond in the comments and your questions may get incorporated into the SAT.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An SAT with Jaclyn Dolamore & A Query That Worked

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk.  Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of MAGIC UNDER GLASS and BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY. She spent her childhood reading as many books as she could lug home from the library and playing elaborate pretend games with her sister. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, David Bowie, drawing, and organic food. She lives with her partner Dade and three strange cats.

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 Pantster?
JD: I am a planner with the option to pants. (Pants? Does that sound right?) I must begin with some idea of where I'm going to take this thing from beginning to end, but it never turns out quite like I think it will, so "the outline" is an ever-evolving thing.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
JD: Well...it's really all over the place. MAGIC UNDER GLASS, the original draft, was written in eight weeks. I sent it to agents, got some rejections and a revision request, rewrote it again in 2-3 more months, got some more rejections, rewrote it again in another couple of months. This was over a year-long process all told. BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY, on the other hand, was one draft that took about a year to write, and then a six week revision when I got the editorial letter. MAGIC UNDER STONE was six months of writing and I haven't revised it yet.
The shorter answer is, somehow or another, I write a book about every nine months.

BBC:Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
JD: I usually focus on one at a time, but I might set aside a finished first draft, then revise something else, or start something else and go back to the first thing when I get stuck in the second thing. Also sometimes I get an unexpected editorial letter and I have to drop what I'm doing and give it first priority! Staying flexible is a helpful quality!

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
JD: I've always written quite a lot...I have diaries from age 5, and piles of notebooks from childhood. So I didn't have to overcome any fear over the act of writing itself. I think I have a lot more fear now, understanding public scrutiny better. I have a terror of writing something that is unknowingly offensive to people. And I think the closer you get to writing about things that really affect people, the more chance you might also write something offensive, so it's something I just have to get over unless I just want to write fluff all my life, which I don't. But I do get a bit paralyzed by it sometimes. I'm a very non-confrontational, people-pleaser sort of person and when you write for the public, you have to understand that you can't please all the people, and some of them might even want to confront you about something, and I spend a lot of time wondering how to handle the public persona part of the whole thing.

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
JD: I wrote two before MAGIC UNDER GLASS, and then it took three separate versions of MAGIC UNDER GLASS before one got a yes, and I wrote another book in the middle of those drafts as well. I only consider one of them truly "trunked", though. The others I have reworked beyond recognition, but I still believe in them.


BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
JD: My first completed novel was about a teenage girl who finds out she is really a fairy, moves to a small town with other magical beings, and falls in love with a vampire. Yes, this was written before Twilight...but it's nothing like Twilight anyway. It was a quiet, character-driven book with a sort of nerdy vampire, and while I still like the characters and some aspects of it, I consider it unsalvageable because of the plot had no tension, plus the fact that I don't think a teenage girl/180 year old vampire love story is something I can really pull off, especially these days. I actually reused the vampire in my short story for the CORSETS AND CLOCKWORK anthology, although I regret it a little. It doesn't really feel like him to me. But I had to write that story so fast I was scrambling...

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
JD: It was all pretty standard! Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown) was a very new agent at the time and she'd been posting on the Blue Boards, and I knew we had similar taste in books. She repped my friend Lisa Madigan, who has since sadly passed on, but Lisa spoke glowingly of Jenn from the start. I queried Jenn with another project first, which she rejected. I was revising MAGIC UNDER GLASS at the time. It sounded exactly like something she'd like! So as soon as the third rewrite was done, she was at the top of my list again. I queried many other agents as well, but Jenn was the first to offer rep, so my hunch that she'd love MAGIC UNDER GLASS was correct. I was a little shocked at the time. I hardly asked her any questions when she called to offer because I was so excited. Luckily she's proved to be a perfect fit for me.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
JD: Almost three years to the day, and over 100 queries spread over multiple projects.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
JD: Try--and I know it's very hard--to treat it like it's all part of the business. Rejections just mean you're working. Lots of rejections mean you need to work on your craft more. They don't mean that you suck or you'll never make it. They're only saying "not yet, not with this person". There were times when I had been at it for three years and seen many many friends sign with agents and sell their books, and it can really hammer at your ego and make you feel like maybe you just don't have the chops. But now I'm approaching the three year anniversary of having an agent, and the three years of struggle don't seem long at all.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
JD: Well, good, of course. There are so many little "it's real" moments along the way--when you get the first advanced reader copy, the first review, the first fan email, author copies, etc... Each one is amazing in its own way, but I guess it also lessens the impact of the moment when it's on the shelf. However, the first bookstore I ever walked into to see it on the shelf, there were a couple of teenage girls complaining about how everything was about vampires. It was almost like they had been put there to give me "a moment". I started talking to them about my book and they bought one!

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
JD: Sometimes my editor will ask me if there is anything I think would be good to have on the cover, but they kind of do their own thing from there and it may or may not include anything I mentioned, so...not much.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
JD: Um...I don't think I had TOO many surprises, which is the good thing about having a lot of published friends and writer groups to share information with. I will say that sometimes things happen really reeeeally slowly. Like, you may have heard that, but you just don't realize how slow it is until it's happening to you!

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
JD: I blog, have a website, and Twitter @jackiedolamore.  I don't really "market", so much as I just...be myself. I like to travel and meet other writers and publishing folk, and sometimes that has resulted in good connections, but I don't do it with that aim in mind. And I do promotional things if I find them fun. Like I've already sketched out a little series of humorous prequel comics for BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY that I'll be posting around release, but I don't know if anyone will like them! I just kept thinking of cute little gag strips, of sorts, so I went ahead and did them.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
JD: I've always been social in the online writing world. I think it's nice to network. You have a support system. I don't know if it was a platform, though. I talked about things like how to make a salad a lot! I've actually found it a lot harder to blog since I sold a book. It feels more high-pressure, and my audience is more split...some old friends, some writers, some bloggers, some fans...they will want different things and I've just kind of gotten tongue-tied.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
JD: A little? I do feel it's only worth doing what you enjoy or have a gift for. I'm sure one starred review does far more for me than a year of blogging. My favorite thing about social media is just being able to connect with fans. It makes me feel like I'm not just writing into a void, and that inspires me to write more and better. Maybe I'm only reaching a few hundred people that way, but having the support of a small group of vocal people bolsters me a lot, which the silent majority of readers can then benefit from!

Jackie was good enough to share her winning query for MAGIC UNDER GLASS, which captured her uber-agent, Jennifer Laughran.

Magic steeps the gas-lit lanes of New Sweeling, where Nimira is a foreign singer, paid barely enough to survive.  When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to accompany a piano-playing clockwork automaton, she thinks her savior has arrived.
Hollin may treat her with the kindness and respect she's yearned for, but buried secrets stir--including a rumor he may have murdered the former head of the Sorcerers' Council on the brink of a peace treaty with the fairies.  Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the automaton's stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break his curse.  As Nimira and Erris fall into a love that seems hopeless, Nimira must uncover the truth behind the councilman's disappearance, or not just her fate, but all the magical world may be in peril...
Set in an alternate Victorian era, MAGIC UNDER GLASS is a YA fantasy with a Jane Eyre-atmosphere, complete at 65,000 words.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An SAT with Susan Shaw

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk.

Susan Shaw is the author of numerous YA titles, including SAFE , THE BOY FROM THE BASEMENT, BLACK EYED SUZIE and ONE OF THE SURVIVORS.  Shaw’s books have been chosen for many awards and appear on many reading lists. They include The Texas Lone Star Reading List, The Texas Tayshas Reading List, ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers, The New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers. SAFE is a Carolyn W. Field Honor Book.

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

BBC: You tackle some tough issues - rape in SAFE, survivor guilt in ONE OF THE SURVIVORS, and parental abuse in BLACK-EYED SUZIE and THE BOY FROM THE BASEMENT.  Is it difficult to write about the subject matter?
SS: There are always points that are difficult to write, but often, the more compelling the subject is for me, the easier it is to write about it. Not that I don’t squirm or try to leave out the hard stuff. But what the story requires, that’s what the writer writes. Or else you don’t feel like you’ve done your story justice.

BBC: Your new title, TUNNEL VISION (available from Margaret K. McElderry - August 16, 2011) feels like a thriller! What was your inspiration for this story?
SS: One of the ways TUNNEL VISION is different from my other stories is that my editor approached me with the idea. So my inspiration had a lot to do with what somebody else thought I could do. Nothing like validation! But I did find inspiration within the story itself, with Liza’s strength of character, with her determination to do what survival required.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
SS: Generally, I start with a sentence in which I feel the whole story. Hemingway called it ‘one true sentence’. Once I find that, I know I have something. I won’t know what the story is about, but I can feel the energy of it once I recognize it.
Much writing often takes place before that sentence appears on my computer screen. But when I have it, I know I have it. Then I follow the character into the story and write things as I see them. While pulling on my hair. I suppose that makes me a pantster.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
SS: It varies. Four months to six months, give or take. That doesn’t count the editorial process. Add another two or three months after that.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
SS: I usually work on only one project at a time, but sometimes I will take a break from a larger work and write short, usually humorous, pieces—poems, short stories. But that is still only one project at a time.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
SS: I don’t remember a time that I didn’t write, so I can’t answer that. But for me, there is never any fear. I jump into the writing, write anything, and eventually find the ‘one true sentence’ that leads me on. So far that works.

BBC: How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
SS: I have more mss. than I can count that sit in my attic—most of them pretty bad. But I had three books published before I had an agent.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
SS: I have quit on many mss. When I see that problems are not fixable or that I’ve encountered a dead end, that the story peters out—that’s when I leave it. But often the story that peters out is the story that leads to a more viable one. Sometimes, that story pushes out the weaker one.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
SS: My agent is Alyssa Eisner Henkin. My query process was not traditional in any form. I was lucky. Alyssa and I had a mutual acquaintance who told me that Alyssa was leaving editing for agenting. So I contacted her. She liked what I told her, she liked my work, we set up a lunch, and talked. I liked her, she liked me, and we signed.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
SS: I don’t really know how many agents I queried before I started working with Alyssa. Perhaps ten or fifteen. My efforts that way were on-again, off-again, and I was lucky in some cases to get a response at all.
I think the main thing for Alyssa was that she thought my work was sellable. It didn’t hurt that I’d already sold three books before speaking with her, and that those books had received good attention.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
SS: Don’t wait for an agent to like you. If you’ve written a great story, send it out on your own. I believe there are still editors in the children’s market who take unsolicited manuscripts. Send to them. Also, go to writers’ conferences and meet them. Talk to them at lunch.
But the main thing is, write a good story. Go the extra mile to make it as wonderful as possible. No matter what you do, you won’t sell if you don’t do that. But if you do that, the chances are on your side whether you have an agent or not.
Editors really do want to find another Maurice Sendak, another Jerry Spinelli, another Kate di Camillo. And they don’t care if you have an agent once they think you’re story is great.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
SS: Thrilling! I told everybody I knew and a bunch I didn’t know.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
SS: None. But the art directors do know their jobs much better than I do. I’ve loved every cover.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
SS: The whole thing was such a learning experience, that I’d have to say that I was surprised all the time by everything. But what continues to amaze me with my fifth book coming out this summer, is that I am one of the lucky ones, that whoever I’ve worked with has given me and my work such respect. It’s great.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
SS: I always try to do some kind of informal tour—go to libraries and talk to librarians, show them the books, sign one if they have it on the shelf.

BBC: Do you have a website?
SS: I have a website.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before? Do you think social media helps build your readership?
SS: I think talking to people always helps, never hurts. Don’t wait to have an agent to get going.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Flash From My Past!

My 8th grade English teacher is retiring, and she passed along a little bit of writing that won me a national award of some sort back in those days.  Initially I cringed at the thought of reading my musings from the pre-teen years, but it's not all that bad.  Having the self-editing skills that I do now, there are certainly some changes in order.  But - I shall present it to you in its lovely awkwardness.  And by the way, it was written from a prompt.  I'm not a vegetable type girl.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CARROT

Wow!  I'm telling you I've had quite a day.  This morning I was lying happily in the grocery store.  Now, here I am in a refrigerator.
My brother was pulled out of our bag a half hour ago.  I think the skinner got him.  I'd never believed in the skinner until now.  We used to tell horror stories about it in the garden.  It was fun and games then, but its deadly serious.
Let me clear this up for you, my name is Carl Carrot, and I'm in trouble.
The skinner is some kind of tool that the humans use to torture us.  It scrapes our outer skin off so that we taste better when we are eaten.
Oh no!  The door of the fridge is opening, cracks of light are slipping out, and a hand is slipping in.
The hand has taken me outside the refrigerator.  I am warmer, but I see the skinner lying on the countertop.
I'm being carried over to the waste can.  OH NO!  I see my brother's skin in there!
The other hand holding the skinner is coming closer... closer... the skinner is touching me!  A bolt of pain and fire runs through my body and I pass out.
WHOA!  I was out for a long time.  Oh my body... the pain... my whole body is burning and my top layer of skin is gone.
I'm sitting in a crystal tray with someone named Cecil Celery.  Cecil says we'll get out soon.  I think Cecil is wrong.
The table is covered with all kinds of food!  Everything I've ever heard of and more!  We are all surrounded by people, however, and we are waiting to be consumed.
I have heard rumors of a revolt.  I don't think it will happen.  The biggest food here, Teresa Turkey, is undoubtedly dead.
I watch my friends die, and there is nothing I can do.
Cecil has been taken.  I will miss the celery.  It was a good friend.
Most of the food is gone now and my burning pain has subsided.
The humans are leaving, except for three women.  They are staying to clean up.
My dish has been taken and put back in the refrigerator.
I have lost everything - my outer skin, my brother, Cecil, yet I will live to fight another day.

PS - I am considering suicide.  I may drown myself in the mayonnaise.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A BBCHAT with Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown

A quick announcement before the newest BBCHAT - Stephanie Diaz was the winner of the Jenny Bent BBCHAT, for correctly (and quickly) guessing that Jenny Bent is NOT soft spoken :)  Steph won a copy of THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE by Ellyn Bache, one of Jenny's clients.

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.

Jennifer Laughran is an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary agency, as well as the author of an excellent blog that all aspiring writers should follow - Jennifer Represents.  Jennifer began her career in agenting after working as a long-time children's bookseller and buyer. She is also the founder of the extremely popular YA event series "Not Your Mother's Book Club". She joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2007.


BBC: What are you reading right now and why do you like it?
JL: I just finished THE LONELY POLYGAMIST by Brady Udall, which I really loved because it was both actually laugh-out-loud funny, but also quite bittersweet, and is about fundamentalist Mormons, which I am into at the moment (and yes, I also watch Sister Wives). I also just read the new Sarah Maclean romance 11 SCANDALS, which I loved because it is delicious and frothy regency-era fun.
In YA: I adored THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson, about a modern American girl who is at school in London when a murderer starts recreating the crimes of Jack the Ripper in her neighborhood... and she just might be an accidental witness, and the next victim. Scary premise, but at the same time super funny and fresh because the characters are just great.  (I tend to like things that are more than one tone at a time, it seems!)   STAR comes out in Fall.
Middle-grade: My fave at the moment is BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX by Laurel Snyder, another fall title, about a girl who finds a box that grants her any wish she wants as long as the wish will fit inside... but then she realizes that the stuff must be coming from somewhere... OH it is so magnificent. Really my favorite middle grade book I have read in a couple of years.
And I am super excited about a number of client manuscripts, which I can't talk about yet! :D

BBC: Paper or plastic?
JL: Paper books, please. I do read manuscripts on an ereader or a computer, but I much prefer paper for leisure reading.

BBC: What's on your bucket list?
JL: Umm... I don't know. I try not to think about death too often.

BBC: Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull?
JL: No, but I  would. I feel like I would be very good at it. (I might be wrong!)

BBC: What type of agent are you?
 a) Cheerleader
 b) Therapist
 c) Bushwhacking Guide
 d) Red Ink Saturation Committee Member
JL: I am a super-enthusiast for my clients work, and I am always available  to them, but I am not a super babying hand-holder... I give notes, but I am not an editor... sooo... "bushwhacking guide"? Maybe?

BBC: If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?
JL: I only represent things that I like to represent, whether or not there is a guaranteed sale. And I would hate to only have one kind of story - part of why I love this job is that it is constantly allowing me to fall in love with and work on different types of books!  Also I think that the thing I am most looking for is something fresh and exciting that I have never seen before... which means, I can't really tell you about it. :-)

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.
JL: Besides Bookseller and Agent, I have also been a circus clown, puppeteer, professional movie extra, tour guide, on-foot pizza delivery girl, bartender, waitress, and a telemarketer (for five minutes... literally).

I attended boarding school in Switzerland, but I still am quite terrible at speaking French. However I am now an expert at yodeling and chocolate-eating, and I own a cuckoo-clock, so that's something.

I lived in Turkey for a year, smoked strong cigarettes, ate brain soup with a side of testicles, became involved in a bacon-smuggling ring and at a certain point was detained by the Turkish police.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A BOA Topped with Tiptoe Kisses!

My original intention for the series of interviews I do here was to focus on agents (BBCHAT) and successful authors (SAT). In the course of internet wanderings though, I’ve ran across a lot of really awesome people, and culled an enormous amount of information from blogs. As I raided my brain – yes, I picture myself on the prow of a Viking ship, approaching my own gray matter – for more people I’d like to interview, it repeatedly offered up names of bloggers. And so, my readers, I give you the third series; Bloggers of Awesome. Yeah, it’s the BOA.

Todays guest is Lindsay Currie, who lives in Chicago with her husband and three beautiful children.  With a love of language and a passion for great fiction, making the decision to write seriously was a simple one.  Vivid memories of the teenage years - both beautiful and haunting - fuel her desire to write for young adults.  The raw emotions and dizzying first romances of the teenage years are still huddled up in the corners of her mind, just waiting to be poured out into the next manuscript. Lindsay works with her co-author, Trisha Leaver, whose own blog can be found here.

BBC:  So you run an excellent blog over at Tiptoe Kisses.  What made you decide to take the approach you do on your blog? UPDATE: Lindsay's blog has moved to this address.
LC: Awww, thank you!  Well, I guess that my primary goal is to be honest.  I have always felt that one of the most amazing products of blogging is the friendships you build with other writers/bloggers and that really only happens when you are willing to really put yourself out there.
My blog isn’t anything flashy, but it’s 100% me and I do my best to discuss not only positive things, but also the difficult/challenging aspects of writing.  The publishing journey isn’t easy and the more we are willing to share, the more we learn from each other.

BBC: I know a lot of aspiring writers who are intimidated by the idea of blogging. They want to, but they are worried it will cut into their (already precious) writing time.  How do you recommend one be both a successful blogger and writer?
LC: Oh, this is really a tough question.  I feel like there’s a balance you have to strike and I honestly think it’s pretty hard.  I think the authors who manage to keep their writing and projects as the number one priority actually have the right idea. Marketing yourself is really important, yes, but not if it’s at the expense of your work.
So, blog when you can - don’t let your blog go stale.  But if you have to choose between blogging and working on a WIP. . . you know which you should choose.

BBC: When do you recommend building a platform? After an agent?  Or should you be working before?
LC: I say before, but I’m sure that varies.  I’m no expert and in fact am quite new to Twitter (@lindsayncurrie) and other social media.  However, I see a lot of benefits and can’t imagine any reason not to jump in and start networking as soon as possible.  There are so many amazing writers out there – every connection I make could be another potential reader, reviewer or simply a life-long friend on the journey.  That’s worth a lot.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
LC: Absolutely.  A classic example is the Roecker sisters.  I am amazed with the platform they managed to build for THE LIAR SOCIETY release.  The “pinkifying” of hair – BRILLIANT.  I saw those pink heads all over Twitter and knew exactly what book it was for as well as what the release date was.  That’s absolutely fantastic.

BBC: You are freshly agented!  Congrats on that!  Tell us a little about who your agent is, and how you got that YES! out of her.
LC: Oh wow, thank you!  Yes, my co-author (the brilliant, patient and amazing Trisha Leaver) and I recently signed with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD.  Our novel is a YA speculative fiction and Ginger happened to be one of the agents holding our query (she hadn’t even gotten to us in her massive queue) when we received our first offer.  When we notified her, she was so amazingly nice and professional – promising to let us know her thoughts by our deadline.  When she requested a phone call, I was afraid I might faint.  In reality, she had so many good things to say about SILO (originally titled both ATLAS-F and FATUM) that I was put at ease almost immediately.  In short, it was one of those stories I dreamed would happen to me someday, but never really expected it to.

BBC: Let's talk about your writing for a little bit.  What's your genre, and what led you to it?
LC: Cool question.  I originally attempted my hand at picture books.  I really felt that this was my niche and wrote a book called “Jalepenos Please” several years ago.  I loved that book and threw myself into the querying world. . . only to face a ton of rejections.  It was incredibly painful to hear from multiple agents that they loved the concept, but that my voice simply didn’t lend itself to young readers.
From there, I attempted YA and realized that although it may have been a heartbreaking way to discover myself. . .they were right.  I didn’t belong in picture books, I belonged writing for teens.  Although that journey broke my heart a few times, I wouldn’t change it for anything.  It made me the writer I am today and without having that hands-on experience, SILO wouldn’t exist.

BBC: Do you use beta readers, and if so, where do you find them?
LC: Ah, yes.  I think beta testers are absolutely invaluable.  The testers that my co-author and I use for our joint writing are a blend of my contacts and hers. People that we know, trust and whose opinions we respect.  These people are hard to come by and I can’t stress enough how important I think it is for you to have a circle of writers who function as a critique group.  Brutally honest but supportive... a combination that’s worth its weight in gold.

BBC: What other websites / resources can you recommend for writers?
LC: You know, Publishers Marketplace is really valuable.  Read what’s selling – no matter what you hear the trends are, what is selling is more accurate.  It also gives you a good indication of what different agents are prone to like and where their interests lie.  Also, in terms of resources, SCBWI is probably one of the biggest for me.  Local events are a great way to network and conferences are a fantastic resource for authors – both those who are published and those who are on their way.  I’ve not been to a conference yet but 2011 is the year for me.  I’m looking for a good one to attend and can’t wait!

BBC: Any words of inspiration for aspiring writers that aren't clich├ęd?
LC: Wow, I’ll try!  I would have to say that in order to find your place, sometimes you have to travel some seriously bumpy roads.  I faced (and I know BBC is no stranger to this) some painful rejections and some very dark days on my path towards finding an agent.  There were times when I wasn’t sure if the sacrifice and the pain of the “no” was worth the possibility of hearing a yes, but I assure you that it is. It’s like I tell my three kids: do your best and you can’t ever feel disappointed in yourself.  That applies to writing as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A BBCHAT with Jenny Bent

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.

Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency in 2009, after six years as Vice President at Trident Media Group.  She represents commercial and literary fiction for adults and young adults, with a special focus on women's fiction, suspense, and paranormal.   Since opening her doors, she's had five authors hit the NYT bestseller list with multiple others on the USA Today, Bookscan, Borders, and Barnes and Noble bestseller lists.

BBC: What are you reading right now and why do you like it? 
JB: In general I really like reading crime writing, like Kate Atkinson’s, or women’s fiction.  I just finished THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown, which I really enjoyed.

BBC: Paper or plastic? 
JB: Both!  I love reading on my ipad, but after a few e-books I find I’m in the mood to read what I still think of as a “real” book.

BBC: What's on your bucket list? 
JB: I’d like to jump out of a plane and swing on a trapeze.  That’s about it.

BBC: Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull? 
JB: Nope, and don’t really have that desire! 

BBC: What type of agent are you?  
     a) Cheerleader
     b) Therapist
     c) Bushwhacking Guide - slashing a path through the publishing jungle for              your writer!
     d) Red Ink Saturation Committee Member
JB: Bushwhacking Guide, definitely.  With a little cheerleader thrown in.   And sometimes the red ink one too.  

BBC: If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent? 
JB: Really wholesome young adult or middle grade, maybe with some magic thrown in.   Or great crime, like Elmore Leonard or Lee Child.

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 a copy of THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE  by Ellyn Bache, a new release from one of Jenny's clients!
JB: 1) I am extremely soft-spoken 
       2) I used to pack chicken at Holly Farms
       3) I have a masters in English Literature from Cambridge

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Interview with Colleen Houck, Author of Tiger's Curse and Tiger's Quest

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 Colleen Houck, author of the self-published TIGER'S CURSE which won her an agent and whose sequel, TIGER'S QUEST will be released in hardcover tomorrow!
Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. TIGER'S CURSE is her first book, which has already received literary praise and digital success. Her self-published eBook claimed the #1 spot on Kindle's children's best-seller list for seven weeks. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a white stuffed tiger.

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 Pantster?
CH: I'm a planner

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
CH: About 7 months

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
CH: One at a time

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
CH: Just wondering if I could actually do it

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
CH: Two - TIGER'S CURSE and TIGER'S QUEST though I didn't trunk them I self-published instead.

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
CH: I've never quit a book

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
CH: Alex Glass from Trident Media Group.  He called me. I self-published my first two books and they were doing really well.  He found me through my positive reviews on Amazon and called me. I was a bit abrupt and told him to call me back after he was done with the book since I'd been burned by other agents.  I had a hard time believing a guy really liked my romance book featuring tigers. He told me he'd already read it and loved it.  After that we got along famously.

BBC: How many queries did you send out?
CH: I never kept track of queries though I mailed out a lot and emailed even more. I sent out queries on and off for a good year or two.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
CH: Querying is still the best way to get published but if all else fails there is nothing wrong with self-publishing. I told myself I'd be content and happy whether I had ten fans or ten thousand.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
CH: Amazing.  I think the best part was going to the bookstore with my parents to browse a few weeks before publication.  Dad started crying and I turned the corner and there was a giant poster of TIGER'S CURSE on display.  That was the coolest moment ever.

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
CH: Not as much as you might think but luckily for me there is a great design team who for the most part thinks like I do.  In fact my self-published covers are not too far off from the new ones.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
CH: I expected to be wearing business suits and having important meeting in New York.  I did get to do that once but most of my meetings occur when I'm home in sweats at my computer.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
CH: For my original versions of the book I did all my own marketing, now I have a whole publishing team working on my material from the wee hours of the morning until late at night and on weekends.  I blog on my website which you can reach here or here .  I Twitter from @tigersaga or @colleenhouck.  The Facebook page is called Tiger's Curse and there is a Facebook fan page called Fans of the Tiger which is run by my sister. I am on Goodreads and have an author page on Amazon.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
CH: I think you should get busy immediately with marketing yourself. Being an author is different in today's world. Young people want to know who you are and what you're working on.  Connecting to their favorite writer is very important.  When I was in high school all the authors I read had died a long time before. Imagine if Hemmingway or Poe had a blog.  Now there are so many books and so many authors to choose from that it's a great time to be a young person and reading.  To connect with your audience you must have a platform even before an agent.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
CH: I believe social media was how I got my agent.  I established a web presence and asked my fans for help.  They sent emails and letters to their favorite bookstores, invited me to speak at schools, and wrote reviews for me.  This all helped me to sell over 18,000 books and attracted the interest of an agent, a Hollywood producer, and a publisher. They shared my book with friends and family and might not have been as supportive or even know how to help me spread the word if not for social media.

BBC: TIGER'S CURSE is very hot with my students right now – here’s Colleen’s query, which serves as an excellent blurb for those of you who are curious:

Kelsey Hayes, an orphan, is a recent high school graduate working for the summer at a small circus.  She has no idea that the totally non-glamorous job of sweeping up popcorn and cotton candy sticks would lead her towards her destiny—a perilous new destiny that whisks her away to the far off continent of India where she encounters dangerous mythological creatures, supernatural beings, and booby-trapped caves.  However, it will also lead her to magnificent ancient ruins, handsome princes cursed to live as tigers, and the chance to fall in love.

TIGER'S CURSE, set on the lush continent of India, is a romance that sweeps the reader into an action/adventure-meets-the-paranormal tale. A cross-cultural Beauty and the Beast, this young adult novel explores the modern and the mythological, the theme of good versus evil, and the tender feelings of love and loss.

Colleen also has a great example of how to do an elevator pitch – she describes the book as Twilight meets Indiana Jones.  Now who isn’t going to be interested in that?

WSJ Article on YA and #yasaves on Twitter

Yes, there's a bandwagon.  And I'm on it.

I usually don't get too involved in being outraged, it tends to leave me exhausted and with oily hair (not sure why).  So when I got on Twitter this morning and saw the YA world had exploded I thought, oh boy, what's the shitestorm now?  Well, it's this article from the Wall Street Journal talking about why the entire YA offering is drivel and shit.

Listen, I'm not going to claim that every single book aimed at teens these days is a Pulitzer contender.  I've seen more than a few that were riding coattails, appealing to the new trend, and yes - going for the sensational route in order to grab those readers.

But condemn us all?  Hmmm... well, that makes me feel... hmm... kinda oily haired.  So, without harping or making a long post about why my writing, and those of my published comrades, is not bottom of the barrel, teen slasher-porn aimed at appealing to the lowest common denominator in order to make a few bucks, I'm just going to tweet under the #yasaves hashtag today as the thoughts come to me, and I invite my followers to do the same.