Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An SAT with INCARNATE Author Jodi Meadows

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. In this case I snagged my editor-sister (hooray!) and internet omnipresence Jodi Meadows. Jodi's debut YA novel, INCARNATE will be available from Harper Collins / Katherine Tegen on January 31, 2012.

BBC: INCARNATE is about Ana, a new soul in a world where everyone is reincarnated. Did you do a lot of research on reincarnation in order to write it?

JM: I did a little research on reincarnation in various cultures and to see what type of reincarnation books are already out there, but I came to the story with a very clear idea of the world I wanted to write about. And because it was the entire society being reincarnated, I had to consider a lot of the potential consequences and drawbacks, too.
As a result, I did a TON of daydreaming about the way the society might work around these problems. (Jobs, laws/punishment, inbreeding, etc...) Lots of the worldbuilding won't find its way into the story for lack of relevance and room, but I did try to leave little clues throughout. For example, they are *fierce* about keeping track of genealogies, and no one has siblings!

BBC: You've described Ana's personality as "prickly." What made you decide to create an MC that might not be the type you crush to your bosom in a soul-hug five minutes after meeting?

JM: Ana's personality came from the way she was raised. As the only new person, she was viewed not as special, but a bad omen. She replaced one of the old souls! Understandably, many (including Ana's mother) were afraid of what that might mean for their existence, and frightened people aren't always very nice.
Ana is an abuse victim. Her mother abused her emotionally and physically, and while Ana has managed to hang on to a little innocence and hopefulness, she's defensive and untrusting. She doesn't read people very well (like spoken language, body language is something you learn by immersion), and until she meets people who *don't* hate her like her mother does, she tends to assume everyone is out to get her.
I do hope people like Ana -- she's a good girl, overall -- but I also really hope they understand her.

BBC: You're very active online, including your own site, Twitter, and the amount of time you donate over on Authoress' blog - Miss Snark's First Victim - to help aspiring writer's attain their goals. Do you believe having an online presence helps boost your readership? Do you recommend aspiring writers begin an online platform before, during, or after the agent/editor hunt?

JM: In some ways, yes. It definitely didn't hurt to have a relatively popular blog and Twitter feed before my deal, but I don't think it's necessary for success, either. Hanging out on social media and helping with Authoress's blog occasionally is something I enjoy doing. If I didn't enjoy it, I definitely wouldn't bother because it can be pretty time consuming!
For authors looking at jumping into social media, I'd say start when you're ready (and only if you want to). You can't have an audience too soon, and if you have a popular blog or Twitter, your agent may use that as a selling point. "Look, she comes with an audience!"
The only other reminder I'd give is to remember your "audience" is made up of people. Treat them like friends, not potential buyers.

BBC: Who is your agent and how did you land her?

JM: My agent is the smart and lovely Lauren MacLeod (@bostonbookgirl on Twitter). I got her the old fashioned way: I developed a major agent crush with her on Twitter, queried, sent her manuscripts, and kept trying until she said yes.
Now we do normal agent/author things together, like holding baby tigers. Wait, that *is* normal, right?

BBC: You blog, tweet, knit, raise ferrets, and write. Any time management tips for writers?

JM: Give up sleep.
To be serious (sort of), I'm in the very lucky position of not having another job, so I can write full time. I also don't have kids, the ferrets sleep 15-18 hours a day, and my husband goes to work. This leaves me with lots of time to create and destroy worlds with my brain.
I've had to learn very little time management so far. I'm driven to write, and I will work hard to meet deadlines. Occasionally I have to prioritize things, and I try to get to emails and other obligations quickly so they don't pile up, but writing always comes first.

Monday, November 28, 2011

There's A Monster Under My Bed

No really, there is.

It's a trunked ms, and it's like an ex-boyfriend that you know has serious issues, but he's got a great voice so you keep taking his calls. Yeah, it's like that.

So my goal for this Thanksgiving break was to give that monster ex-boyfriend an attitude adjustment, make him see his wrongdoings and wrangle him into good shape. In other words, he graduated from under the bed to in the bed. But don't misinterpret that last bit; it's where I do my writing. :)

This particular ms was suffering from some tense issues. Every now and then my 1st POV narrator wanted to slip into present tense while speaking about the past. I call it The Wonder Years Syndrome. In my head, it worked. But every one of my betas was like, "Dude, you've got a tense issue here." And I was like, "No, it's The Wonder Years Syndrome." But that never seemed to be a sufficient explanation.

And after leaving Monster Ex-Boyfriend under the bed for a year I have to admit, that yeah - it doesn't work. Betas are good people. Mine are very patient on top of that.

Hopefully my tough love knock-down drag-out did the trick. Awaiting feedback...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

Sometimes you have to freeze everyone out. . . to avoid getting burned. Not a bad hook. It doesn't tell me a lot about what the story could be about, but I'm interested enough to keep going.

Sydney knows how horrible the foster system is. She’s been in it for seven years, thanks to her mom, a crack-smoking prostitute. I feel like this isn't important to the query. All we need to know is that the MC is in foster care, not why. The why would be useful in a synopsis, but I don't think it has a place here. Now it’s time to move on to her seventh family, the Claytons. Sydney knows immediately that she won’t fit in with their extravagant life and the spoiled stuck-up Brooke. I assume that Brooke is the daughter of the family but that isn't made completely clear here. I also think that we need some spice in this para to differentiate your book from other YA titles. How has the foster system been horrible to Sydney? Why is she on her seventh family? Is it her, or is it them? I need something here to connect me to that "frozen" idea from the hook, too. Right now I get that she knows she won't like the Clayton's, but it seems like it's a socio-economic thing rather than a personality quirk of the MC.

Sydney refuses to get close to anybody, here we're getting somewhere, that it's a choice on the MC's part. Get this in here sooner. including Brooke’s best friend Got an echo there with friend and befriend Dani, who tries to befriend her. She resents the snobby kids, especially Brooke’s boyfriend Corbin, who flirts with Sydney—much to Brooke’s dismay. Gah! Stock phrase! Kill it! Corbin is just like all the other overprivileged kids; but he’s hot and Sydney can’t help but be attracted to him, even as she hates him. Good, here we've got some internal struggles that are going to help differentiate your book. Get to this sooner, and capitalize on it. 

After discovering that Brooke and Corbin’s relationship is a sham Meh? How's it a sham? Is Brooke gay?, Sydney begins to learn that the perfect kids are not so perfect and that even Corbin has his secrets Like what? Is he a serial killer? Corbin likes Sydney, but Brooke refuses to let him go Why? Just 'cause she's a bitch and doesn't want to see our MC happy?. Even if Brooke breaks up with Corbin, Sydney doubts it will ever work with him. He’s the popular, rich kid and she’s the daughter of a crack whore. There you go, see, you can slip the crack-whore in here (the things you find yourself saying...) And really… if her own mom had given up on life… had given up on Sydney, how could anyone else ever truly love her? Aha! Not a bad sinker there. We've definitely got internal conflict like crazy, with her own feelings for Corbin, and her feelings about herself. Very nice.

I feel like you've got a great hook and sinker going on, but the meat in between needs some trimming and rearranging. The main idea here is that we've got an MC with serious self-acceptance issues that lead to her protecting herself by freezing out the rest of the world. Get that out there sooner, and more vividly. Even your title is about the chip on her shoulder, so turn it into a boulder that you can throw to get some attention. I also think the mention of Dani needs to go, as she's only mentioned once and tends to clutter up the query. If you get across the idea that Sydney is cold early on, you don't need the example of Dani. Focus on the screwed-up love triangle of the sham relationship, and explain why it's a sham. I feel like not knowing the answer to that is a tease, and a query shouldn't be a vehicle for a tease. Also, the idea that Corbin has secrets (I read this as layers) needs to be capitalized on as the moment where our MC begins to thaw towards him as an individual, yet the problem of her own self-acceptance still stands in the way.

Overall, not bad. Shape it up and get the important details out there where they can get the attention!

Jump in, my followers! Let our brave volunteer know what you think!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Foundling's Tale, or Monster Blood Tattoo Redux

Every now and then I latch onto a writer that I don't think is getting the credit (read: audience) they deserve, and I go about hitting my friends over their heads with the books in question until they 1) read them or 2) stop being my friends.

I've reviewed FOUNDLING by D.M. Cornish before, and because of the fact that it's the first in a series I decided I was not going to review the rest of the Monster-Blood Tattoo books because it can be incredibly difficult to review sequels without ruining them for the intended audience.

So I won't.

What I will do is say that if you're a fan of JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin or - most of all - Mervyn Peake, you will love FOUNDLING, LAMPLIGHTER and FACTOTUM.

And not just because I told you to.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thursday Thoughts

So, I know it's a holiday and most people probably aren't trolling the internet, wondering what I'm thinking about today. But just in case you are...

1) I've noticed lately that bad guys in the movies often make chilling directives into their cell phones and then break them in half, dumping them in a nearby trash can, assured that any and all evidence of their wrongdoing has now been obliterated. Somehow I don't think that's accurate...

2) Bad news from BBCLand my friends. Scott the Female Cat has fallen victim to the coyotes. At least, that's my assumption, after having missed his androgynous presence for nearly a week. Yes, it really can be a wild world out here. These guys, however, are doing just fine. Of course.

3) Biological processes are very hard to circumvent. It's getting colder outside and my bear tendencies are kicking in. I'm not hungry, but I keep eating. My brain keeps telling my body I want a nice protective layer of fat. My ego keeps saying,"DAMMIT!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday WOLF

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

I'm so happy and proud of my friend and writing partner RC Lewis that I'm still talking about her today. You probably know that she made the YA/MG cut over at Authoress' Baker's Dozen contest on Miss Snark's First Victim. What you might not know is what the hell a baker's dozen is anyway.

A baker's dozen actually equals thirteen. Now why would that be? Turns out bakers weren't the most trustworthy of shopkeepers back in the day. Air pockets can slip into loaves of bread, and it seems that some bakers took advantage of this, charging full weight for bread that was a little light in the loafers (knee-slapper!)

This was such a problem in England that Parliament passed a law in 1266 regulating the weight of bread, the penalty for shorting your customers being that you were nailed to your own doorstep by the ear. Uh, yeah. Shopkeepers decided that was a line they didn't want to cross, but there was no way to be sure that their loaves didn't contain an air pocket or two.

In order to stay within legal limits as well as assuring their costumers they weren't being shorted, it became common to bake thirteen loaves of bread, using the extra 13th as a "bonus" loaf. When a customer bought a regular loaf of bread, the baker also cut a chunk off the 13th loaf, to make up for any air pockets inside the first loaf.

Fascinating stuff, eh?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An SAT with Vicky Alvear Shecter, Author of CLEOPATRA'S MOON

Before you start in with today's SAT, be sure to pop over to the blog of RC Lewis, my longtime crit partner and all around friend. Her entry MG/YA entry made the cut for the Baker's Dozen contest on Miss Snark's First Victim. Stop by and wish her luck!

I've got a different brand of SAT for you today, with Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of CLEOPATRA'S MOON, which I reviewed here. Typically my SAT's revolve around the author's writing journey to success, and their writing process. In talking with a historical fiction author, I found some salient points that I wanted to bring to the table for readers and writers alike.

BBC: CLEOPATRA'S MOON is historical fiction featuring Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the well-known Cleopatra VII and Roman general Marc Antony. How long did you research and what kind of sources did you delve into?

VAS: First of all, thanks for having me. I love this site! To answer your question, I spent about a year researching Cleopatra’s story for my mid-grade biography, CLEOPATRA RULES! I was so fascinated to learn that of the queen’s four children, only her daughter survived to adulthood.
Sadly, I discovered that there was very little written about Cleopatra Selene’s life. The only way to tell her story was to delve into fiction. Most of the ancient sources were Roman, by the way, and they had an axe to grind with Cleopatra, whom they blamed for the war between Octavian and Antony. Roman men weren’t that interested in the lives of girls and women so Selene barely got a mention. But I felt her story needed to be told. It took me another two years to finish researching and writing the book.

BBC: How much of CLEOPATRA'S MOON is fiction, and how much fact?

VAS: The nature of her relationships with people was fictionalized because all I had to go on were the barest outlines of her life—when she was born, who her parents were, when she was taken to Rome, when she was married off, when she died. So as long as I worked within the facts of period, I was free to create her inner world.

BBC: You did a fantastic job of portraying both cultures - Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome - while explaining the politics of the time in terms YA readers would be able to relate to. Was it difficult to translate all the plot complexities (cultural, political) for modern readers?

VAS: Thanks!  Any success in making this story “relatable” to modern readers comes from my conviction that we humans never change. It seemed to me that there were plenty of parallels to modern politics. For example:
Octavianus  “took down” a powerful woman (Cleo) by calling her sexually demeaning names and spreading wild rumors and negative propaganda about her. Still happening? Oh yeah. Just ask any high-school girl how often that happens to strong girls.  Or watch TMZ.
In Rome, citizens exhausted by war and a teetering economy looked the other way as civil liberties were slowly stripped in the name of keeping the state “safe.” Happening today? Just look at TSA and Guantanamo.
A teen girl stunned to learn her freedoms are curtailed in another culture. Happening today? Of course. Just imagine any American girl having to live in, for example, an extreme culture where she can’t drive, go to school or dress the way she wants. It wouldn’t be pretty!
I could go on, but the larger point for me is that there’s nothing new under the sun. History gives us a fascinating and entertaining way to look at our own lives. And choices.

BBC: One of Cleopatra Selene's most endearing qualities is her fierce loyalty to her own religion and patron goddess, Isis, even under threat of death. How realistic are the rituals and scenes portraying Cleopatra's religion?

VAS: We actually don’t know exactly how the rites of the Mysteries of Isis went because no one ever wrote them down. As with so many “Mystery cults” of the ancient world, the rites were secret. And people kept them secret! (Kind of remarkable, when you think about it.)
However, most scholars believe that the rites include some form of dying to your old self and being “reborn.” I went with that idea and expanded it.

BBC: Some of the more disturbing aspects of ancient life are mentioned the book. For example, even noblewomen were married off very young for political gain, slaves could murdered at their master's will, and the Ptolemies (Cleopatra's Egyptian line) had a long history of marrying brothers and sisters. As a historical writer, what aspects were important to keep in the narrative for accuracy, and how did you weigh what to include for your young audience?

VAS: It was important to be true to the history.  We do teens a disservice when we try to sugarcoat reality.
Plus, there’s the issue of being historically accurate! For example, one reviewer wondered why I didn’t have Cleopatra Selene question the practice of slavery.
My editor and I had actually discussed this because we knew slavery is a cultural hot point. But the truth is, NO ONE in the ancient world questioned the morality of slavery. The closest we get is the Roman writer Seneca cautioning slave owners not to abuse their slaves because that would be wrong ethically. That’s it.
The awareness of slavery as morally wrong didn’t actually take hold until the 16th century and beyond. So, if I’d made Cleopatra Selene suddenly question the practice, it would have been anachronistic.
I did, however, have her be disgusted when someone jokes about beating a slave. But doing anything else would’ve been historically false.

BBC: Cleopatra Selene was fortunate to be born into a culture that valued women. Do you think writing historical fiction portraying strong female characters is important to the modern YA reader? What do you think they can learn from it?

VAS: Portraying strong female characters is very important, especially in YA. Girls and boys need to see strong women taking action in their lives rather than being acted upon.
Here’s a perfect example of the importance of seeing/reading about strong women. When my son was very young, we had a female mayor in Atlanta (Shirley Franklin) and I’d bought a picture book biography of her to read with him. Years later, when another mayor was selected—this time a man—my son’s reaction was this: “A man mayor? That’s funny!”
When I explained that it was pretty common, he added, “Oh. I thought all mayors were women!”
I was stunned. But there it was—the power of seeing strong women in the world! Sadly, I have to add, there hasn’t been a female mayor in Atlanta since.
With Cleopatra Selene, I hope readers see that even as power was stripped from her externally, she ultimately maintained/discovered the power within herself.

Thanks for having me, Mindy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What We Talk About When We Talk About Pain

I've heard it said many times it's much easier to make your audience cry than laugh.

I'll add to that that it's easier to make your reader identify with falling in love than say, having your arm ripped off.

When we write we appeal to common experiences to allow our readers to fill in the blanks. The nervous tingling of your spine when you make eye contact with that guy/gal, the lingering burning sensation on your skin after you "accidentally" brush hands. These are all things we can allude to without going into detail. They know the drill.

If, though, we're talking about having your spine ripped out or a literal burning of the epidermis we tend to fall back on stock phrases. How many times have you read about "searing pain" or "explosions of pain?" It's like we can't even write about pain without using the word itself.

Even better is when the tortured character loses consciousness, the end-all writer's escape. C'mon? Really?

I don't have the answers about how to write pain effectively. I can say my approach is to read. A lot. And I pay attention when someone has written something distinctive enough to make me writhe a bit.

Writhe.

There's a good word.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

WAS THE WATER WARM? a contemporary coming of age YA novel that takes place over the course of 24 hours is complete at 62,000 words. This is a personal choice of mine, but I always put the genre and word count at the end of the query. You want something exciting and original in the beginning, and genre / word count isn't either of those things.

A nagging voice lives in the back of Rube's mind that questions if he’s making the right decision. I'd say you definitely need a stronger hook here. All teens have nagging voices, hell, I bet all adults do too. You need to get the originality of your plot front and center. He’s spent his summers working 55 hour weeks to pay his way through NYU In my opinion, this is going to throw up a red flag right away. It's slightly misleading the way it's presented here. Your MC is still in high school and earning the money for college, but on my first read I thought you were saying that he's in college and working to pay his way simultaneously to become a film producer. Yet how can he be sure this is what he wants, when he has no experience producing? Rube’s eighteen, he’s never been on a film set, or lived on his own let alone made a decision big even to affect the rest of his life.

But a life can change in 24 hours. A day after the first, and worst, sexual experience of his life, Rube meets Emma, a girl whose every move catches him off guard. Emma, takes Rube backstage at a music fest where he jumps in to help the concert crew fix an emergency wiring situation. Less than two hours later she’s taking Rube’s feelings for her and dropkicking them in the chest. Emma intended to lead him on in order to arrange a sexual hookup between Rube and her friend. Only Rube is sure his feelings for Emma are reciprocal. Suddenly we're talking a lot about sex and I don't see any kind of connection to the earlier para. I'd definitely use the idea of this sexual miscommunication and emotional wrangle into something for the hook - it sounds like the meat of your story is here in the relationship with Emma, and we don't hear about her until the third paragraph.

Instead of confronting Emma, Rube freezes unable to adequately address his feelings, he flees to a friend’s house party. Frustrated, and angry with himself for running as soon as sex was brought into the equation, Rube makes a rash play for a one night stand with a girl at the party. This feels more like a mini-synopsis at this point. You need your query to encapsulate the plot. Go for more broad strokes and less detail.

But when Emma appears at the party, Rube has a decision to make. Nut up, risk rejection, and tell Emma how he feels about her, or get the level of experience he thinks he needs to be with Emma, by having sex with the party girl. Again, this is a detailed synopsis of a single scene and episode in the book. And it doesn't seem to have a lot in connection with the idea of being a film producer and the larger life-decisions it sounded like he was going to be facing from the first paragraph.

Like THE DUFF I believe my manuscript walks an honest and realistic line in it's approach to teen relationships and sex. With my MC sharing his introspections on YA topics almost always handled by female protagonists it can be likened to CATCHING JORDAN for it's fresh perspective. Here, I think, is a great angle. I think there's a need for more boy POV books on the market and I would play this out.

My first impression when I started reading the query was that the book is about a boy questioning his life goals and major decisions in the summer before college. Then suddenly we're micro-focused on relationships and sex, and particularly one night at a party. That's all well and good, but it sounds like the major focus of the book is the relationship with Emma, and / or the sexual reality of teen life. If that's the case, you need to make this clear in the opening paragraph, because as it stands the query feels disjointed.

Any more tips for our volunteer?

Friday, November 18, 2011

What My Desk Looks Like Today

Hooray!

I continue to love my job. Here's yet another big stack of fun hanging out in my office. And yes, the spray of dustjackets across the desk is part of my process. I'm an odd duck cat.


I spy with my little eye....
MY PHONE!!


What Color Was The Horse?

Dean Rich (DCRich to AQC'ers) is returning the guesting favor here on Writer Writer! Enjoy!

I watched an episode of CSI, and the lead investigator shared a story with the detective and a lab tech. There was an auto accident, and a horse was injured. A police officer shot the horse, the bullet ricocheted off the horse’s skull and kills a fellow officer. The commanding officer asked “what color was the horse?” No one knew. Trained observers missed the obvious, what else did they miss?

As writers we watch, we observe, we ask what if? We develop characters, or the characters come to us with the stories they need us to tell. All well and good, except if one of the characters is the opposite gender of the writer. As a man I’m on safe ground writing about guy things. But stories are about people, relationships, conflict. So there are gals in guy stories, and guys in gal stories. How do we write about the opposite gender and make them believable?

I start with good old fashioned stereotypes. Girls/Women deal with feelings and emotions (Being stereotypical, work with me here!) Guys deal with practical and logic. Guys want to see what is on the other side of the mountain, the gal then wants to know what they need to wear and what will there be to eat. Guys vision, gals detail.

Then I begin to work out specifics and move away from the stereotype to what I’ve observed in women and girls I’ve known over the years. What is she like? What does she like? What gets her dander up? What will she be emotional about, and what will she stand up for?

It is a framework. It is a starting point. The characters will let you know if what you are doing is working or not. Just remember to note the color of the horse.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

Before you get your weekly dose of my brain, hit up AM Supinger's blog for a short story featuring... me as the main character. In cat form. Attacking zombies. With corn. No really.

Also, I'll be in the AgentQuery Connect chat room this evening. Our weekly chat is going to be an open Q&A with myself, so if you've got any lingering questions, drop in and ask!

I have a roving mind. I'm sure that's a shock to everyone. Through the course of each week I tend to accumulate random wonderings in my mind, most of which never evolve into anything other than a niggling question that's going to bother me until I 1) ask someone who knows or 2) go find the answer myself.

As you can imagine, it's been an insane ride for me the past week. I have no idea how to process the fact that I've finally accomplished my life goal. And I'm 32, so I decided I needed some new life goals. Obviously, I'm not going to say, "Hooray! I'm published! So now I'm done with that." Uh, no. The assumed continued life goal is to have a career in writing.

In other arenas, here are my thoughts:

1) I want to learn another language. Thoroughly. I used to speak passable French, but I believe it's all leaked out of me since college. I also learned Koine Greek as a Religion major, but again, I believe it may have left me. Koine Greek is very much a dead language, so I don't get to practice speaking it a lot, which is where mastery comes from. I still have my textbook though, so I see myself diving back into that. I also want to learn Gaelic (or "Irish" as Google Translate calls it). Yes, I'm totally devoted to learning more things that will probably never serve a useful purpose in my daily life.

2) Related to my urge to speak Gaelic; I want to trace my Irish ancestry back to the homeland. I've managed to track the slippery McGinnis line to about 1775, and we're still in America. Pennsylvania, to be precise. Apparently we got on that boat early (knee-slapper!). I've been dead-ended in PA for about three years and need to relaunch myself in the genealogy arena. My German line was pretty thoroughly researched before I even came along, and by that I mean thoroughly. Like 15th century thoroughly.

3) I mentioned this on AgentQuery, but I'm going to pick up playing piano again. I used to be decent. No prodigy, but better than your average stray animal. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday WOLF

Quickly before your word origin lesson of the day - I'm taking a SHIT on someone else's blog. In the nice, interview type way. Awesome friend and soon-to-be-published author Anita Howard set me up with my own questions over on A Still And Quiet Madness. Hit it up to find out about my submission experience!

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

You have the indomitable RC Lewis to thank for today's WOLF. During the course of our daily and verbose e-conversations, she used the word tenterhooks. Me being the self-proclaimed nerd immediately said, "Hey, I know where that word comes from!" And, as I know her ACT score (ahem, higher than mine) I assumed she did too.

But she had fallen for the same trap I did, years ago when BBC-That-Was thought that tenterhooks referred to a hook that you would hang a meat or carcass from. Alas! This is incorrect.

A tenter is a wooden frame, used in the stretching and drying of woolen cloth to remove the weave and reduce shrinkage once it became a garment. A tenterhook is one of the many hooks on the frame used to stretch the fabric.

Although this practice is very much a thing of the past, when you think about it, it makes quite a bit of sense. When you say you're "on tenterhooks," what you're conveying is that you are stressed and tense while waiting to discover something.

It does not mean, "Wow! I'm so excited to hear what happens next that it's like I'm a hollowed out carcass hanging from a hook!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Knock, Knock... Housekeeping!

A few things to cover quickly before I go to write up the lovely Wednesday Wolf for tomorrow (this one entirely owed to RC Lewis).

I was recently interviewed by Brittany Roshelle over on The Write Stuff. It posted today, so hit up her lovely blog.

I've had a few questions come to me since my announcement and I'll answer them here:

1) Yes, I fully intend to keep doing the Saturday Slash. I like making queries bleed. If I have a lot of requests I will be backlogged, but aspiring writers are accustomed to waiting, right?

2) I know I need a better author photo. I swear to you that the left side of my face is not horribly disfigured.

3) No, I don't have a Facebook author page yet. Need to do that. Kind of waiting on getting a better author photo.

4) That's really it. I just enjoy even numbers. Also, cholera is a bad thing.

5) And... something else came up. You may or may not know that my internet homebase, AgentQuery Connect holds weekly chats on Thursdays @9 PM EST. This week's session will be a live, open Q&A with me. So drop in, ask me questions. I'll answer them. Could be interesting.

6) Even numbers rock.

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Which I Talk About The Meaning of Anti-Climactic

Most of you have been with me for awhile, so you're aware of what a long, long road my writing journey has been.

But I'm up for a recap :)

I started writing with the intent to be published roughly ten years ago. When I finished my first novel I looked into the process of getting "there" and discovered that writing the book was half the battle. Actually it was more like 1/8th the battle, in my case. I wrote a 2 1/2 page query (hooray for ignorance!) and fired that bad boy off. Fired as fast as the USPS fires things, at any rate. This was in the SASE days.

Amazingly, a few requests came in. I rejoiced, and sent of my unedited, non-polished novel and received the inevitable rejections shortly thereafter. Refusing to be daunted, I kept throwing trash into the wind. A couple of years later and a near miss with a scam I wrote another (very bad) novel and attempted querying that, without success.

Fate, in the form of my sister, stepped in and let me know there was an opening for a YA librarian in a public school. So I said, "Why not?" and quickly became immersed in the literature. This was right before Twilightgate and suddenly, YA was the place to be. I said to myself, "Hey, I know the market and the audience - why am I writing for adults?"

Good question. So I started writing for teens - and I love it. But that didn't mean I was any better at it, or knew what I was doing. I wrote my first YA novel, and racked up 130+ rejections. Yep, that many. At that point I said to myself, "OK, clearly I am doing something wrong." I got smart, joined excellent communities like AgentQuery Connect and QueryTracker, and found out that uh, yeah, I was definitely doing things wrong.

Short version - I wrote a new YA novel, polished and perfected the query with the help of some excellent people over at AQ and had eight full requests and two offers of representation within the first two rounds of query sending. Is it because I'm really awesome and talented? Maybe. But that doesn't mean a thing without agent research and query writing skills.

Hooray! I had an agent, Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary. That in itself was totally awesome. So what's the buzzkill? Submission process. In reality, my process was not horrible, but it wasn't the overnight success we all wish for either. I was out on subs from early spring to late fall, and every single editor rejection felt like I was being stabbed. In the kidneys. And you need those, by the way.

Don't get me wrong, I had polite, complimentary, detailed rejections. Which is what you want, as a writer; the reasons why you didn't make the cut. What killed me was that so many of the reasons were contradictory to what I'd heard the day before. And there were close shaves too, so I kind of felt like stabbing myself in the eyes. And you need those too, by the way.

We were on our third round and I was starting to wonder if Adriann might have suffered a serious judgement lapse in signing me when suddenly... we were roses. Interest, offers, auction. I still don't what happened, although I guess this is proof that subjectivity plays a major role at all levels. As detailed here, I slapped my laptop and said bad words when I got the email from Adriann.

And then? I couldn't tell anyone except family until the Publisher's Marketplace announcement. Dad was working. Mom wasn't answering her phone. Sister was at play practice. Boyfriend was at work. So I sat by myself for awhile at my kitchen table, and eventually got up and scooped the litter pan. Yes, really.

Eventually my sister picked up and I said I wanted to talk to her about something. I was going to drop off some library books in the book drop (it was night-time by now) and she was still in town. I told her I'd meet her in the parking lot to have a quick word. But then she decided that we should eat dinner - something I was not planning on or dressed for.

So I ended up setting in the ice cream parlor where I had my first job when I shared my news. My sister dropped her cracker in her chili and said, "How are you feeling?"

And I said, "Well, I'm setting here in pajama pants and a sweatshirt without any bra or underwear on, so really this is pretty much how I expected it to play out."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reality? Check.

So, something happened.

My agent, Adriann Ranta, sold NOT A DROP TO DRINK and its sequel to Sarah Shumway at Harper Collins. And my reaction to that is:

.... Uh, Wow. Actually, my immediate reaction was to take the Lord's name in vain and slap my laptop shut. I then apologized to both Jesus and the Mac and double-checked the facts of the case. It was still true, I was conscious, and I was sold.

I've known since about seventh grade that I wanted to be an author; it's been my life goal for a long time. So, now I've managed that.

Check mark.

I'll give you the details tomorrow, as you can imagine the whole thing went down BBC-style, and is quite humorous.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email. And a little bit of BBC literary info.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our next brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

What does a young boy selling hot dogs in Appalachia have in common with a retired postal worker driving a van to Upstate New York? They are animal rescue super heroes. I'm not as good with MG voice, but I still think this hook needs more zap. Also, I wouldn't call it a "rule," but I definitely don't advise posing your hook as a question. I like the parallel between the boy hot dog seller and the retired postal worker used in conjunction with their locations, however, the verb tense is not working for me. I'd try re-phrasing into a statement and using "who sells" and I'd ditch the driving and van reference for the postal worker altogether.

ANIMAL RESCUE SUPER HEROES is a work of narrative nonfiction that tells middle grade readers the ongoing and inspiring stories of people who work to reduce pet overpopulation while saving the lives of unwanted dogs. Nice, this works for me. Complete at 10,000 words, the book explores the process from actual rescue, to fund raising, to adoptions. The stories, illustrated with vivid photographs, will inspire readers, even those who do not own pets, I'd strike for phrasing to become animal rescue super heroes themselves.

I met the people featured in this book after I rescued two starving puppies near my home in Claiborne County Tennessee and discovered there was no animal shelter. I am involved in building a shelter in my county and a member of Claiborne Animal Shelter Board of Directors. I volunteer regularly for the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps veterinary clinics, and, of course, I rescue stray animals. This all works well - you're telling the agent why you qualified to write this book. And brava for being a furry friend hero yourself!

And now for my little para where I talk about what I think your book is about. Obviously, since this is for non-fic, I don't have a lot of room for extrapolating down here. I know very little about how to go about querying an NF work. I'm going to put a bug in the ears of some of my more NF qualified people over at AQC and usher them in this general direction though! Hopefully I helped a little.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Query Contest Alert!

Krista V. of Mother, Write, Repeat is helping out her fellows once again!

Check out her blog today for the details on an upcoming Agent's Inbox Contest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Talk - CLEOPATRA'S MOON by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Most of us know at least something about Cleopatra VII - that would be she of the viper and Marc Antony. It's likely that some of what you know is false; the romanticized versions of her life are more fiction than fact. What a lot of people don't know is that Cleopatra had a daughter - also Cleopatra (it was a Ptolemy thing) - who had a heck of an interesting life herself, but has always existed in the long shadow of her mother.

Vicky Alvear Shecter sets out to right this wrong in her YA novel CLEOPATRA'S MOON. It's a well plotted, nicely delivered historical jaunt with plenty of life lessons for female teens and a love story on top for the win. Shecter pulls world-building double duty in masterfully re-creating both Ancient Egypt and Rome as our main character, Cleopatra Selene, is forcefully removed from her homeland after her mother's death. Cleopatra and her surviving brothers, sons of Marc Antony, are brought to Egypt to live with (of all people) Marc Antony's Roman wife, Octavia, whom he had abandoned in favor of Cleopatra VII.

Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Used as political pawns in Ceasar Octavian's skillfully manipulated empire, Cleopatra's children must learn to survive in a culture foreign to them. Cleopatra Selene remains fiercely loyal to her patron goddess, Isis, performing her rituals even under threat of death. Meanwhile, the siren song of Rome - wine and women - is calling her brothers away from their culture of birth.

Intelligent and attractive, Cleopatra Selene has to decide whether she will allow her body to be used to further the Ptolemy line in an advantageous marriage of Ceasar's making, or if she will give in to the equally powerful pull of her own heart - which is headed in another direction.

Thursday Thoughts

I have a roving mind. I'm sure that's a shock to everyone. Through the course of each week I tend to accumulate random wonderings in my mind, most of which never evolve into anything other than a niggling question that's going to bother me until I 1) ask someone who knows or 2) go find the answer myself.

Thoughts lately:

1) The word "testify" more than likely does not have any relevancy to a man's testicles, which has me kind of sad, as I wanted to use it as Wednesday Wolf, but didn't have enough evidence that it's factual. I'm bummed by this, as I'd really like to be able to use the female counterpart "Boobify!" to indicate my strong agreement with someone else.

Why no, I *don't* get out much
2) I'm a red meat eater, we're talking like velociraptor levels. I've got it in my head that I want to know how many cows I've eaten in my lifetime. I think I'm hitting herd levels.

3) The brain is an amazing thing. It makes your mouth have knee-jerk reactions. When I was potty-training my youngest, I had a student come up to the circulation desk and ask me if she could use the bathroom. I said, "Yes, and don't forget to wipe." She was kind of mortified. Those random synapse firings can take you strange places.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Submission Success with Leigh Bardugo

Don't worry, there's a SHIT coming your way... but first I want to let everyone know that I'm up this week over at From the Write Angle, my blog home away from home.

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

I managed to cobble together a few non-specific questions that some debut authors have agreed to answer (bless them). And so I bring you the submission interview series - Submission Hell - It's True. Yes, it's the SHIT.

Today's guest is Leigh Bardugo author of SHADOW & BONE, coming from Macmillan / Holt, June 5 2012. Inspired by Tsarist Russia, SHADOW & BONE brings to life a fantasy world of superstition and science, saints and samovars, in which a lonely refugee must leave behind her best friend– and first love– to save her country from the growing darkness of the Unsea. But first she must contend with the dangerous and decadent world of the kingdom’s magical elite and their powerful leader, a creature of dark charm and deadly ambition.

Leigh's blogs over at Last Leigh (how clever is that?), and she's also on Twitter.

BBC: How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?
LB: Nothing. I wasn't yet active in writers' groups or online forums so I was woefully under-informed.

BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?
LB: I hadn't expected that I would have opportunities to chat with editors interested in my book. It makes perfect sense, but I think I'd just assumed that the manuscript would get to do all of the talking. The calls varied widely. Some editors asked questions about the book-- the inspiration, plans for the series. Others discussed how they responded to the story or their approach to launching a new title. Basically, sometimes you feel like you're auditioning, and sometimes you feel like you're being courted. Either way, it's exciting.

BBC: Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?
LB: Yes, particularly if I had calls scheduled with them. It's important to know what projects an editor has worked on. And it can't hurt to find out what kind of success a house has had with titles like yours. (Many editors now tweet and blog so you can get a feeling for their tastes and sensibilities that way, too.) Personally, I find research comforting. When you're working on the ms, you're all-powerful. You're the author and that story belongs wholly to you. But as soon as you click send on the first query or mail out that first envelope, the power dynamic changes completely. It's easy to feel helpless or freaked out, so arming yourself with information can help take the edge off.

BBC: What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?
LB: If I remember correctly, we started getting calls and requests for synopses of the second and third books in the trilogy just a few days after we went out. We had our first offer by the next week. That was right before Thanksgiving. The next offers came pretty quickly after the holiday and soon we were on our way to auction. I'd prepared myself to hunker down for a long wait so the speed with which it all happened was really thrilling.
(This may go without saying, but I just want to point out that the process doesn't always go this smoothly. I had the help of a phenomenal agent, and I also got very lucky. I don't want people who are in the trenches to get discouraged if things don't happen right away.)

BBC: What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?
LB: Consider a medically induced coma. If that isn't a possibility, stay busy. I did a lot of baking and cooking. I'm not particularly good at either, so they tend to keep my brain occupied. If you have a new project to work on, dive in. Also, if you have friends or relatives keeping the watch with you, then you may want to institute a "When I have news, I'll tell you" policy and ask them not to inquire.

BBC: If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?
LB: Because we went to auction so quickly, I think I was spared the worst of it. When editors passed or chose to drop out of the auction, the news came through my agent who served as both a buffer and a comrade in arms. (Notice how military metaphors keep coming up?) Querying is a lot lonelier.
But I will say that the terror before the first offer was really profound. Keep in mind that, because of the way querying works, a few rejections from agents were still straggling in after I'd signed with Jo. Every single one of them stung. They became a kind of Greek chorus in my head, "We're right. She's wrong. You suck."

BBC: When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?
LB: I was in the produce section of Whole Foods when my agent called with the first offer. I made a sound that was somewhere between a shriek and a yelp. Let's be honest, I may have squawked. Then I left my cart by the apples and went outside to hyperventilate. The knowledge that I was actually going to be a published author absolutely rocked me.
From there, things just got crazier and better with every passing moment. But even after the final offers were in, even after the deal was made, some part of me still thought that everyone at Macmillan/Holt would wake up the next morning with an acquisitions hangover and say, "What the hell did we just do?" I had a similar fear when I turned in Book 2 of the trilogy to my editor. I suspect I'll feel the same way when my book ships to stores. I don't think that insecurity ever goes away.

BBC: Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?
LB: I had to wait until the announcement was made in Publisher's Marketplace to talk about it publicly, but I was able to tell the people closest to me before then and that was what really mattered.
The night we finalized the deal, my friends threw a little dinner party for me. We drank champagne and danced like crazy around the living room and made weepy toasts. It was all just beautiful because these were the people who knew how much this book meant. They'd been on the journey with me-- not just from draft to agent to deal, but long before.
I put a picture up on my blog a little while ago. It's a fairly hilarious drawing that my best friend made for me when we were 14 years old. It's me at a book signing. Excluding a brief period in the fourth grade when I was sure I would become an astronaut/fashion designer, it's not exaggerating to say that this is what I've always wanted. Waiting a few days to tell Facebook that all my dreams were coming true didn't make much difference.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ten Things I Hate About Me

There's a certain amount of egoism involved in blogging. I'm assuming that people care what I have to say, and it seems that some do - so my heartfelt thanks for not allowing the guy on my shoulder with the pitchfork to win the battle for my soul.

Plus, blogging is kind of the thing to do. I've mentioned before that I don't like to do what everyone else is doing. The last time I participated in something popular was when I bought a bottle of Tribe. So yeah, I have what I call "bitch-lapses." There are certain things about me that are not-so-great, and I thought I'd share some of my less desirable qualities. I think everyone should have a "Things About Me That Kind of Suck" lists.

It keeps you humble.

1) People who talk slowly bother me. I lose interest, and it's not because they are boring or stupid. It's because I'm really rude.

2) I'm ridiculously stubborn. I wanted to borrow my mom's rototiller (the BIG kind) and couldn't get it into the back of the truck. There was no one to help me and I just kept trying and trying to lift the damn thing until I had to acknowledge that physics was against me and you can't fight science. But I managed to hurt myself long before that.

3) I have way too much pride, it's definitely my big one of the Deadly Seven. The b/f is a bicyclist. On one of our first dates he took me out to a riding course and we went about 25 miles. I hadn't been on a bike in about a decade. He kept asking me how I was doing. I kept insisting I was fine - because I was not about to say, "You know what, I need to stop," or even, "Hey, why don't we turn around now." Nope. Not BBC. So yeah... I was pretty much hamstrung for about a week after that.

4) I am incredibly klutzy. I broke my tailbone on a boat that was on dry land at the time. And there's the infamous Staircase of Fate incident, of course.

5) If I'm reading, writing, or doing anything that requires me to not be interrupted, I may very well growl at anyone who interrupts me. Like in a totally feral, let's-get-her-to-the-hospital kind of way.

6) I hate talking on the phone, the advent of texting has made my life so much easier. I freely admit that it may have also made me a better friend and person. Look! I can show people that I care about them without actually having to SAY it!!!

7) I'm not a toucher. Never will be. Even in situations where you're supposed to BE a toucher (weddings, funerals, reunions, parties), I'm like No ARRRGH!! Circle of protection!!! Most people get the drift when I narrow my eyes at them as they move into my space.

8) It's very, very hard for me to say "I'm sorry," even when I know I should. My Irish genes rebel when I try to form the words.

9) I have a very low voice. It kind of sounds like a man voice. And...

10) I talk too loud. Is that a big surprise?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Saturday Slash

So, I opened up myself to critiquing queries, and quite a few of you said - "Yes! Me! I love it when other people jam their grimy fingers into my carefully polished words!"

OK - my hands aren't actually grimy, but I don't make any promises about the cleanliness of my editing tool. Meet the BBC Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

And a little bit of BBC literary info. We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox. Also, at the end, I'm going to tell you what I think your story is about, based on your query. I know how hard it is to get your ideas across succinctly, and how easy it is for your author's brain to fill in the blanks and not see the gaping holes that the average reader may very well fall into.

Also, for my brave Saturday Slash volunteers I will gladly do follow-up slashes (each more kindly than the next) on your query if you post them on the Query Critique board over on AgentQuery Connect. You'll get advice from me, and also people who are smarter than me. If you do post on AQ, be sure to follow the guidelines and let me know you posted so that I can follow up!

And now for our fourth brave soul. For clarity, my comments are in purple.

For sixteen-year-old Emma Hawthorne, a touch is never simple. This (combined with the second sentence here) is a great hook. Even a brush of skin can draw emotion from another person, burdening her soul with the full weight of that person’s I'd rephrase - their troubles. It’s an ability she learned to use to help the people around her. I would strike this line as it's not very informative and only raises questions - she's learned to use this ability to help people - how? And what bearing does that have on the novel as a whole? I'd leave it out, as it raises more questions. But I'd strike, as it's being used as a comparison to the previous sentence and I'd strike it as well. The drowning mentioned next is the crux of the novel, so we need to get there sooner. When her best friend drowns, Emma knows it wasn’t an accident How does she know it wasn't an accident? Is it because of her touch ability picking up something from the body or what? and her own grief leaves her unable to cope with the constant bombardment of extrinsic emotions. So the extrinsic emotions mentioned here are not necessarily related to the drowning, I'm assuming. I'd do some rephrasing here - what you're saying is that her own emotions are enough of a burden right now that she can't deal with other people's as well. So I'd be clearer about that.

Emma cuts herself off from everyone until her friend, Gabriel, comes home for the summer. Despite spending four years apart Hmm - random - where has Gabriel been? College?, their connection is stronger than ever and his calm presence quiets the storm of emotions in her head. Their friendship kindles into a deeper relationship I'd rephrase into "something deeper" to do away with the "ship" echo, but Emma’s growing conviction that her friend isn’t resting in peace threatens to tear them apart. How? If he's quieting the storm of emotions this feels a little contradictory. It's not a query-killer by any means, but this entire para feels calm. We're talking about happy things, a romance, and clarity for Emma and then we get the "tear them apart" line. I'd consider striking it entirely, as we get the idea of discord and love triangle issues out of the next para. 

Emma meets Patrick, who promises to free her from her ability and erase her traumatic memories. Lots of "hers" in this first sentence here, I'd rephrase. You're a strong enough writer to find a way. Also, I think you need a better transition from the first para into the second. She soon discovers he is responsible for her friend’s death and that she may share the same fate. This feels a little too "tell" for a query, I'd strike it, as the next sentence does a good job of establishing Patrick as the "bad guy." When Patrick’s obsession with Emma turns dangerous, Gabriel risks his life to protect her and she realizes she must embrace her ability if she wants them both to survive. "Both" as in Gabriel as well? How is Patrick a threat to Gabriel? With her own Strike it as unnecessary - "her soul" is the same as "her own soul" soul on the line, she I'd use her proper name here to get away from so many pronouns in one sentence must decide how much of herself she is willing to risk to destroy Patrick and find rest for her friend’s tormented soul. This is a decent sinker, but I need to know why her own safety is bound up in destroying Patrick? "How much of herself" implies that by getting rid of her ability, she can possibly destroy Patrick but I'm very fuzzy about how she'd do either one of those things. Also, is she looking for revenge for her friend, or truly looking to find "rest for her tormented soul?" Because if it's the latter that implies more of a paranormal element than I was previously getting from the query.

After earning my B.S. in journalism from Kent State University, I followed my husband to Los Angeles, where I now work as a grant writer for a non-profit that teaches music in inner city neighborhoods. That's great, but I'd strike it as not being pertinent to the query, with the possible exception of the BS in Journalism - and Woo Hoo! Kent State! Along the way, I have co-written two independently produced short films and published articles in two weekly newspapers. I am active in several online writing communities and workshops, including Ladies Who Critique and WriteOnCon. Everything here is great though, I'd use these facts in the bio.

My overall thoughts: We immediately know that we're in YA because of the age of our protag, and that there is a paranormal bent to it because of her ability. The idea of a murder adds mystery and intrigue, however the lingering question of her friend's soul makes me wonder if it's heavier with paranormal than my first impression led me to believe. How does she know her friend's souls is tormented, and not at rest? Is she communicating with a ghost? Having weird dreams? I think this needs to be clarified, as an agent might me turned off by heavier paranormal element if that's not what they thought they were requesting.

Also, the fact that there are two boys makes my mind immediately go to "love-triangle," however, the only indication of interest here is that Patrick is into Emma, not necessarily the other way around. The way it stands is potentially misleading, as I'm unclear on what her feelings for him are (pre discovering that he's a killer, anyway).

And lastly, I need to know how Emma can go about destroying Patrick in the first place. By using her ability? By banning her ability? By eating his soul and flushing it down the toilet in vomit form? The query you've got here is decent, but I need these details that make it distinctive from every other paranormal love-triangle YA that's out there. I DO think the idea of touch-thought is very interesting and original, but I need more details about how this plays out in the plot to be fully drawn in.


What do my followers think? Our volunteer wants your feedback too!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Success in Self-Publishing

My fellow AQC'er and From the Write Angle blogging partner Calista Taylor took a deep breath and a big plunge a few weeks ago. She made the decision to self e-pub her steampunk romance VIRIDIS - and it paid off. I wanted to bring her onto the blog today to talk about her decision to take this leap, and how she went about making sure it was done correctly.

BBC: Do you currently have an agent?
CT: I do have an agent for my non-fiction work, but do not currently for my fiction manuscripts.  I had been agented for my book, VIRIDIS, and we started the submission process, but unfortunately, part way through submissions, the agency I was with made the decision to deal with YA and MG novels exclusively.  This left me without an agent to complete the submission process, so I was forced to shelve my novel.

BBC: What made you decide that it was time to self e-pub?
CT: A few years back, I would have waited to get another agent with the hopes I’d eventually be able to dust VIRIDIS off—and I did just that for a little while.  However, the ebook revolution has changed things.  With more and more people reading ebooks, I figured I had nothing to lose.  VIRIDIS could either collect dust on my laptop, or online, where it might actually make it into readers’ hands.

BBC: Did you do a lot of research into e-pubbing before making the plunge? What resources do you recommend?
CT: To be honest, I tend to take an experimental approach with most things I do, and this was no different.  For the most part, I used the method outlined in Agent Query’s guide to epublishing, and also followed the information on each website, regarding the best way to format a manuscript.  So far, there have only been a few bumps, and those were out of my control.

BBC: The cover art for VIRIDIS won an award! Did you do it yourself or hire it out? 
CT: When it comes to visual things, I can be quite picky, and I know I’d drive a graphic artist insane if they had to actually deal with me.  Since I enjoy experimenting with that sort of thing, I figured I’d try my hand at making a book cover.  The first few tries were very basic in design and not terribly good (floating heads, Monty Python hands, warped perspectives, etc.), but eventually I picked up enough tricks to get a cover I was happy with.

BBC: What was your publication strategy for VIRIDIS? What platforms did you use? Do you recommend one over the other?
CT: I uploaded directly to Amazon, and then used Smashwords to distribute my novel to all the other sites.  Since I really wanted my novel to be available for free (as part of my marketing plan) I found by using Smashwords, I was able to post my novel for free on sites that don’t normally allow it, which in turn sort of forced Amazon to also make it free.

BBC: What was your marketing strategy? How did you get the word out for VIRIDIS?  
CT: I decided I would put out VIRIDIS for free, with the hopes that it would get me enough readers who may actually want to pay for the next book in the series.  The key seemed to be going free on Amazon, which isn’t something they automatically allow you to do.  Despite promoting on Facebook, Twitter and a variety of blogs, the number of sales I had on Amazon when VIRIDIS was just .99 compared to the numbers once it went free, were night and day (about a 1000 times higher during those first days—it has since come down to about a 100 times more per day).  To be honest, going free has been my most successful marketing strategy.  If even a small percentage of those that downloaded VIRIDIS end up buying the second book - DEVIL ON A SPARROW'S WING - it’ll still be a far greater number than those that would have bought my books otherwise.

BBC: Any last tips for self-publication success?
CT: I think you need to be willing to take a chance.  The publishing world is changing rapidly, but I think as writers, the ball is in our court.  Just make sure your story is the best it can be, and that it looks, reads and feels professional.  Though it may be self published, a reader doesn’t want to be reminded of that with a multitude of formatting and editing issues.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All Day Q&A, Zombies, And Me, Located Elsewhere

I know everyone is anxiously awaiting my Thursday Thoughts, but I'm only having the one. So I thought I'd hit you guys up for some blogging material. Ask me questions, I'll answer 'em.

Could be interesting.

My single Thursday Thought:

1) If zombie apocalypse ever becomes a reality, I'm going straight to the Amish. They'll be fine.

And I'm guest posting about time management over on fellow AQC'er DC Rich's blog The Write Time today. Wanna know how I manage to accomplish things? Well... I'm curious too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. No really, stop, BBC! You!?! Yes, I'm in fact such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Recently a follower filled me in on an interesting tidbit. Lake Erie figures into my novel NOT A DROP TO DRINK, and the original name for Lake Erie was actually The Lake of the Cat. BBC likes. Why was it the Lake of the Cat? The original inhabitants of the area were the Erielhonan Indian people, which means People of the Cat in their language. When the French showed up, they referred to the nearby lake (Lake Erie) as the Lake of the Cat.

And you know what else? "Cat"in Gaelic is... "cat." It hasn't changed, like ever. God bless you Irishfolk.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Talk - DARK INSIDE by Jeyn Roberts

Earlier this year I connected with Jeyn Roberts for an SAT. I love getting tips from other writers about their own success. It's even better when I get the chance to read their books (especially a debut novel!) and say to myself, "Hey! I know that lady!" Well, in an internet interview kind of way. With that in mind, I started reading my e-ARC of DARK INSIDE, but I kept reading it because it's awesome.

A massive earthquake has ripped across the world, opening up wounds in the earth. With the quake comes one of the most horrific monsters you can imagine - yourself.

The monsters of DARK INSIDE are regular people, stripped of their positive qualities. The good angels on their shoulders are gone. They are left with only the bad things they've done ricocheting in their brains, urging them to do more.

The survivors of the earthquake now have to face these human monsters - called Baggers - who still have moments of clarity when their better, true selves shine through. A handful of teen narrators across the country tell their survival stories as they struggle towards a common goal.

But one of them is battling their inner Bagger, and with fate bringing them all to a collision course they have to fight to keep from being the one who condemns them all.

Today is release day for DARK INSIDE! Go get yourself a copy!