Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Debut YA Author Kathleen Peacock Takes the SAT!

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 Kathleen Peacock. Her debut, HEMLOCK, takes place in a small town where Lupine syndrome—also known as the werewolf virus—is on the rise. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control. When Mackenzie decides to investigate her best friend Amy’s murder herself, she discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock. Secrets about Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?

KP: I used to be what I called a “Three Point Pantser.” I would have an idea for the opening, the ending, and one big event in the middle. These days, I’ve become much more of a planner and typically outline before I start.
BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

KP: Usually I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of girl, though that will probably have to change as projects will eventually overlap (copy edits on one, outlining another, etc).

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

KP: Definitely! There was a long gap after high school when I didn’t write anything other than blog posts, press releases, and user manuals. Plus—and I know, now, that this is silly—I worried about the fact that I’d gone to art school instead of university.

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

KP: I had one trunked collection of short stories. Also, I started two YA books while/after I queried Hemlock that were trunked (one at fifty pages and one at one-hundred-forty pages).

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

KP: With the fifty page manuscript, I loved the initial concept (I still do) but I had trouble striking the right tone. It was meant to be a black comedy, but somewhere around page thirty, it ended up being just plain black. I decided to take a break from it to work on a dystopian idea. That one was trunked when Hemlock sold but I’d love to revisit it.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

KP: My agent is the awesome Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong. I sent her a traditional query (with the first few pages) via email after reading her bio on Miss Snark’s First Victim.

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

KP: I’m a big fan of sending out queries in small batches. If you query ten agents and five come back with the same concerns, you have the ability to evaluate and (possibly) address their concerns before querying more agents. Keep track of your queries. You can do this through an online service or by setting up a simple spreadsheet. Have a separate email folder for rejections so that you don’t have to see them every time you open your inbox (I’m actually a fan of having a separate email address just for querying). Be patient. Some days you will feel like a ROCKSTAR, and some days you’ll feel like the first woman eliminated on the season premiere of The Bachelor. Be equally suspicious of either feeling.

On Being Published:
BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?

KP: The designers at HarperCollins are just AMAZING. I had one or two small request but the final cover is extremely close to the original concept work they showed me. Same goes for Simon & Schuster UK. I’m just in awe of their creative teams.

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

KP: How supportive the YA writing community is.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

KP: I have a blog, website, Twitter, and am on Goodreads.

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

KP: Well with non-fiction, you probably should start building it before (based on my very limited understanding of that market). With fiction, honestly, I think it’s good to explore social networking early, but I see it less (at that stage) as being about platforms and branding and more about making connections and engaging in conversations. If your goal is publication, you should register the name you hope to publish under on social networking sites as soon as possible. Also, it doesn’t hurt to register your name as a domain (if you can get it).

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?

KP: I think so. I’ve met so many incredible book bloggers through Twitter.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Writing Beyond Your Experience the Rumsfeld Way

I've got a guest poster today, and my own words of wisdom on time management are located over at The Lucky 13's!

Shawn Proctor received an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, where his fiction was nominated for Best New American Voices and received the Creative Writing Award for most outstanding thesis. His work has appeared in WragsInk's Philly Fiction Anthology, Our Washington PastimeThink Journal and Storyglossia, among others. He is currently seeking an agent to represent his novel The Sugarmaker's Son, which is kind of like A River Runs Through It... except with geek heroes and maple syrup farms and bohemians. Shawn can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that time you first heard “Write what you know”?

It most likely came from a writing instructor, peer writer, or wizened voice in the corner of the fiction workshop. Best case scenario, the person was ignorant.

Paranoia and sabotage aside, the person is wrong. Not maybe wrong either.

If writers stuck to what they know H.G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, and Stephen King would have had to spin their bizarre tales in some other medium. Good bye, science fiction and horror. Later, magical realism. (Hear that? It’s a billion geeks shrieking in unison.) Let’s not even talk about British icons Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, or Frodo.

Writing what you know won’t get you too far, unless you had a career as a spy, ninja, pirate, or assassin. And don’t get me started about writers who write about writers. (John Grisham, just stop doing it already.)

So how do you prepare yourself for writing what you know—probably family relationships—before leaping into the wild blue yonder of imagination? For the answer we turn to an unlikely source: Former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. Really.

Known knowns—Look, you know what you know. You can use any experience, place, hobby, job, relationship, or memory as material for fiction. I’d suggest concealing the identities of real people, but otherwise everything is fair game.

Known unknowns—You know you don’t know about police procedures or magical tricks or boxing. The trick here is to find a resource to that will make it a known known.

Try reading. Writer’s digest has a series of amazing books, including ones on forensics, name origins, and technology. Or consult newspapers, magazines, and online forums.

Talk it out. Ask your buddy about his job or hobby. Find a resource on Profnet or at a local college.
Worst case scenario, fake it until you can find the right resource. You’d be surprised how far you can go only fueled by imagination. If you never rode in a race car, perhaps you can extrapolate the experience from a teenaged joy ride or that time you fled from that state trooper. (Hey, maybe you’re more interesting than I thought!)

* Special note: science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and other genres rely on rules and logic specific to that world. As long as you remain consistent, the rules of our reality can be bent, broken, or constructed anew.

Unknown unknowns—We know what we know and know what we don’t, but how can we know what we don’t know we don’t know? (Got all that?) This is the need that becomes obvious as you write, something that you never saw coming. Not when writing the outline or possibly the first draft. Surprise—you need to learn about marine biology or Zen to make a story work.

Take a step back and assess whether you absolutely need it. Does it serve the story? If so, decide whether you can jump past the section or must stop and work on it immediately. In any case, once you have identified an unknown unknown it moves up into the second section, and eventually becomes a known known.

Rest assured you’ll never know everything you will need to create a gripping narrative, especially one that goes beyond your experience. Don’t let the fear that you will hit a speed bump keep you from writing the first draft though. The good news: your stories will be better and your life more interesting because of what you find.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Talk - SMALL TOWN SINNERS by Melissa Walker

We know not to judge a book by its cover but we all do it, right? Alas, even librarians are not immune to a well played dust-jacket. When SMALL TOWN SINNERS by Melissa Walker crossed my desk I immediately slid it on over to the TBR pile. Glad I did.

Lacey Anne Byer is a good girl. Only child of the youth minister of the Church of Enlightement, Lacey wears a promise ring and has never thought twice about some of the heavy handed practices of her congregation - like the annual Hell House held on Halloween Weekend.

Designed to save souls by portraying sins that will lead the sinner to damnation, Hell House is a big deal in her small hometown. Such a big deal that the much coveted role of Abortion Girl is usually reserved exclusively for seniors. Lacey is only a junior, but she gets the role when the girl originally cast has to drop out - because she's pregnant.

Scuttled away to have her child in a home where the babies are given up for adoption, the teen mother simply ceases to exist in their hometown, and is never spoken of. Yet the father is still in their midst, walking the halls, playing sports... even participating in Hell House. The double standard festers in Lacey's mind, and the independent seed of thought is fertilized by Ty - a childhood friend who returns to West River in an effort to escape a dark secret of his own.

SMALL TOWN SINNERS is deftly done, portraying a teen not questioning the existence of God, but rather some of the harsher elements of the faith she's been raised in. Equally impressive is Ty's character serving not as a bad influence but rather an opening in the box that Lacey has been existing inside of, and their talks at night in the park - which Lacey sneaks out of her house to have - question right and wrong, black and white, while the romantic tension runs strongly underneath their every word.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

What an odd week it's been.

1) Netflix recommended a documentary on human sacrifices for me based on my viewing habits. Not sure what prompted that.

2) Sorry male followers but I've got to share the fact that my yearly (and if you don't know what that means just ask a girl) is always scheduled to fall on Valentine's Day. Yep. Right. On. The. Day.

3) I really want to see the American version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Boyfriend is not as interested as I'd hoped. I may have to play the girlfriend card on this one. How many girls play that card for a David Fincher film?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A BOA With Medical Maven & Wondrous Writer Lydia Kang

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, the third series; Bloggers of Awesome. Yeah, it’s the BOA.

Today's guest is the multi-talented mom, wife, part-time doc, writer and blogger Lydia Kang. Her YA sci-fi novel, THE FOUNTAIN, will be published in 2013 by Dial/Penguin.

BBC:  So you run an excellent blog over at The Word Is My Oyster. What made you decide to take the approach you do on your blog?

LK: I started out just writing about writing. Grammar, plot devices, my own issues with novel writing, etc. Meanwhile, I had some trouble reconciling the two halves of my work life—writing and being a doctor. I felt like they were such drastically different aspects of my existence, and I was shy about talking about my doctor-half. Then I realized, this is stupid. I should embrace it, and moreover, I should share what I know. So Medical Mondays was born, where I welcome fictional medical questions writers come up with for their stories. You wouldn’t believe how many amnesia/head trauma/gun shot wound questions I deal with. And every single one is fun and fascinating to answer. I also answer a lot of Medical Mondays email that comes my way and much of it doesn’t end up on the blog.

BBC: Clever title, how’d you come up with it?

LK: I wanted something catchy and odd, and I wanted to use the word “word” because of how much words had changed my life. So I played on “The world is my oyster” and voila!  Unfortunately, for a while I got a lot of visitors who thought my blog was about the Bible. Sorry, no.

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.  You're a prolific blogger - how do you recommend one be both a successful blogger and writer?

LK: I struggle with the balance. There are some days of the week, like Wednesday nights, that I dedicate 100% of my evening to checking blogs and responding to comments. On dedicated writing days, I prioritize writing over checking blogs. And on Sundays, I write all three posts and get it out of the way. I also try to write brief posts (except for Medical Mondays, which often beg for detailed posts.)
There will be times when I will have writing deadlines, and so I do see a blogging hiatus or two in my future.

BBC: What other websites / resources can you recommend for writers?

LK: I got my start with the writing community and the agent hunt at Querytracker and their forums. Many of my crit partners and writing friends were found there. I still actively hang out there as MeddyK. Basically, any question you have about publication and agents and the craft can be asked and the members are kind and supportive. There are also countless blogs that discuss the craft of writing. I like to joke that the internet gave me my MFA in novel writing.

BBC: What is your genre, and what led you to it? Does your genre influence the style of your blog?

LK: I write YA. I’ve written historical, urban fantasy, and my book deal was for a near-future sci-fi. I’ve always loved YA and children’s literature but with the rising tide of new writers in the last ten years, I re-found that love and decided to try my hand writing it.
In person, I’m very jokey, playful and casual. My personality and voice is what you find on my blog. I have a pretty young-at-heart attitude (cripes, I sound old saying that, don’t I?) so it helps with writing YA too.

BBC: Do you think blogging is a helpful self-marketing tool?

LK: The answer is yes and no. It helps to be part of a great blogging community. I think other bloggers will help me get the word out about my book when the time comes, but I believe it will happen because we are friends, not because I’m being a salesperson.
If you use blogging solely for marketing, other bloggers can tell and they don’t like it. No one wants to be sold stuff 24/7. I know I don’t. They (I) want a two-way conversation. They (I) want to share a cup of virtual joe and chat. Marketing myself has become low priority for me at this point. You can probably tell from my Twitter feed. I think I have a 1:20 ratio of self-marketing to useless/fun/personal tweets. Call me financially stupid, but I’m so much happier this way.

BBC: Any words of inspiration for aspiring writers?

LK: When it comes to writing, find your support group that will weather the roller coaster of emotions that comes with being a writer. Find crit partners that will tell you the truth. Be humble, be ready to revise, and be ready to hear that sometimes, your writing sucks.
Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Whether you aim for a tradition path with agent and biggie publisher or decide to go indie with small presses or self-pubbing, set the bar very, very high for the quality of your work. And remember that every shelved novel you write and every rejection letter means you are one step closer to your goal.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Non-Fiction Fridays: SURVIVING THE ANGEL OF DEATH by Eva Mozes Kor

Eva Mozes Kor was only ten years old when she stood on the sorting platform of Auschwitz, holding hands with her twin Miriam. Their mother's habit of dressing them in matching clothes saved their lives, as a sharp-eyed SS Officer spotted them and asked her if they were identical twins. Their mother's answer tore my heart, "Is that a good thing?" Those were the last words she would ever hear her mother say.

Eva and Miriam were inducted into the experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele, also called The Angel of Death. Mengele's "scientific" experiments on what he called "his children" varied from involuntary surgeries to change their sex to unknown injections intended to alter the color of their eyes. Some children were purposefully exposed to horrible illnesses while their twin was not. Eva was one of these.

Horrific tales weave through the narrative, but the main message is one of courage, survival, and the tentative bonds that formed between children who never knew if their friends would be alive the next day. Small strong hands bravely stole bread from the kitchens to feed those less well off, even under threat of death. Stories of unexpected kindnesses from some of the German nurses and villagers who would throw food and supplies over the fences of Auschwitz also provide a stark contrast to the cruelties that jolt the reader.

Even more striking, there are photographs included that many students of the Holocaust would recognize, such as the image of Jewish children being liberated from Auschwitz. Leading the line are Eva and Miriam, hand in hand. To put names to these faces and know their story lends a depth to the book that goes beyond shock factor, and puts a face and name on the victim.

SURVIVING THE ANGEL OF DEATH will be available March 13, 2012 from Tanglewood Press. It is appropriate for middle schoolers upward.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

My random thoughts this week run thus:

1) I just realized that the tune for the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" prayer and "Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" are the same. Now, that's funny.

2) I didn't enjoy fashion in the '80s the first time around. I've mentioned multiple times that I want grunge back, but after watching Dotown Abbey for the first time this week (yes, I realize I'm behind), I've decided that instead I'd like early 1900's clothes to come back. And I also want someone to dress me and do my hair everyday. Thanks, that'd be great.

3) And speaking of Dotown Abbey (SEASON ONE SPOILERS AHEAD), I think that Lady Mary's virginity-losing sex that killed the Turkish envoy was the best abstinence advertisement I've ever seen. That's right kids - you CAN get pregnant the first time you have sex, you CAN get an STD the first time, and it is likely that your lover will DIE on top of you!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An SAT with Alison Cherry, Author of RED

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 a fellow Lucky 13, Alison Cherry. Her debut, RED, is set in a small town where the redness of your hair is directly tied to your social standing, until the coolest and reddest girl in school is blackmailed on the eve of the Miss Scarlet Pageant. Coming from Delacorte in the summer of 2013.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
AC: I’m a excessive planner. I have note cards and lists and outlines galore. I find it hard to even start writing a book until I know how it ends. I’m trying to learn to be a bit more pantsy.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
AC: My first, never-to-be-published book took me three years to write, revise, and polish. My debut, RED, took one year. I like to revise as I write, so my process is pretty slow, but that also means that my finished first drafts are more like fourth drafts.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
AC: Until this month, I was a monogamous, one-book-at-a-time girl. But now I’m cheating on my WIP with another manuscript in a different genre. Shh, don’t tell.

BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
AC: Is there anyone who can answer “no” to this question? If so, I want to bake that person a cake. I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. What if everything I come up with today sucks? What if my WIP doesn’t turn out to be as good as my first book? What if I’ve used up all my ideas and I’ll never ever be able to write again, ever ever ever?!

BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
AC: Just one. I’m mining it for parts right now, so you’ll likely see pieces of it in my second published book.

BC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
AC: I trashed a manuscript after three pages once when I realized the world-building made no sense. I still like the idea, but I don’t intend to go back to it any time soon.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 
AC: My agent is the astonishingly awesome Holly Root at Waxman Agency. After doing an absurd amount of research, I came up with a list of dream agents and showed it to a good friend who used to be an agent herself. She pointed out a few people she thought would be especially good for me, and Holly was one of those. She was the first one I queried, and she asked for a full right away. But when she read the whole book a few months later, she wrote to me and basically said, “I love your writing and I think this book is awesome, but I also think it’s too quiet to sell. Do you have something else?” I was half finished with a first draft of RED at the time, so I sent her a few chapters. We met up in person a few weeks later, and she told me she was smitten with RED and that I should send her the rest as soon as possible. I could have continued to look for someone who wanted the first book, but after meeting Holly, I knew she was the agent I wanted. So I stopped querying and started writing like a madwoman. Five days after I finished RED—and fifteen months after my initial query—Holly offered me representation.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent? 
AC: The book I queried first was rejected by 16 agents over the course of nine months. Holly is the only one who ever saw RED.

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
AC: Remember that you are not your manuscript; rejections are just business, not personal slights. Also, if an agent turns you down but says she wants to see the next thing you write, she’s not just saying that to be nice. She saw something special in your writing, even if your first project wasn’t right for her. Send her your next book!!!

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 
AC: It’s way too early for me to start marketing, but I made a website and started blogging recently in order to establish an online presence. Holly also suggested I join Twitter when I first signed with her, and I was very skeptical, but now I’m addicted. I tweet about weird stuff a lot.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
AC: Having a website/blog/Twitter account before you query does help agents find out more about you, but I didn’t have any of those things, and everything still worked out fine for me!

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
AC: Absolutely. My book is at least 17 months from publication, and I’ve already met a number of people at various book events who knew who I was because of social media. It’s always a bit startling when that happens.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Swearing is Good... Sometimes

So, here's the thing - I'm not a fan of casual swearing. I know that might be a surprise coming from someone who has an interview series on her blog called the SHIT. And trust me, RC Lewis will tell you I'm not averse to dropping the f bomb when necessary, so please no one read this and think, "Oh no, I used a four letter word in an email to her one time, she thinks I'm an idiot."

Trust me, I don't. I know some idiots, and you're probably not one of them.

What I dislike is casual swearing, dialogue laced with four letter words contrived to display the character's laissez-faire attitude towards the status quo, the villian's familiarity with gutter tongue, or the inherent toughness of your MC. Here's what you're really doing: Showing that you as a writer have to rely on an over-used group of four letter words to convey intensity.

How to be intense without swearing? I advise watching Breaking Bad in it's entirety, but for a quick example, this clip from Season 3 will do:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

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.

At nineteen, Boyd Sopal has the family farm in his blood, but poachers are setting traps in the creek bed, and low-flying planes are dropping orange dust on their fields. His father’s relationship with the neighbor who cuts fences and takes potshots at the no toxic spraying signs on Sopal’s side of the road has turned ugly, and Boyd is rethinking his chosen line of work. This is grabbing, but I don't think it's the focal point of your book - in fact, I think the very last line of your query is actually your hook! I read these things through all the way once before starting to comment, and when I read this first para I thought we were looking at a rural-based story about a neighborly dispute that goes bad.

Then Maggie, the Spanish/Indian girl with blue eyes, comes across the road for help, and he is drawn into the conflicted world of the migrant worker. I like this, and it definitely sounds like the crux of your story is in their relationship, so bang on that pot hard. By the end of the summer, there is nothing he won’t do for her. He confronts her father who has a perverted view of parenthood and befriends the brother who will kill to protect her. Soon Boyd has a gun to dispose of as well as a body. In a race against time, he has to find the drugs that have been planted in his car by the vengeful neighbor, as he and his friends plot to squirrel away a vulnerable buddy caught between Boyd’s struggle with the police and aggressive Army recruiters. Meanwhile, Maggie deals with a personal problem in the only way available to her, using the ancient herbal wisdom passed down from the women on her mother’s side of the family and suppressed in the modern world. This entire para feels very much like a synopsis rather than a query, and it makes for a very blithe, bloodless, reiteration of what sounds like some major plot twists - family issues (hinted at sexual abuse, maybe?), Boyd killed somebody but I don't know who, a drug frame-job, and the moral issues of draft dodging and abortion. I'm not saying it's not possible to address all of these well within the context of the novel, but it definitely does not work in the confines of a query.

From Boyd’s getaway to the Upper Peninsula with friends in tow, to Maggie’s flight into Ontario with shorn hair and boy’s clothing to escape his mother’s wrath and join her uncle’s guided hunt, they both try to escape Black River. When he returns to find her gone, he follows her through the Algonquin National Park and across weak ice in a warming world as he tries to hold onto his own. Again, it's reading like a synopsis (and not a badly written synopsis, so congratulations on that, you've got the bone of your synop here, so that should make you feel good).

BLACK RIVER is a 105,000-word contemporary drama with cautionary environmental undertones and a romantic edge. It bridges the divide between commercial and literary fiction and navigates the barriers between the landed son of a fourth-generation farmer and the daughter of an itinerant migrant worker with a troubled past. I think this is a fantastic way to describe your book (as I understand it) - and boom! I see a hook. Usually I prefer not to have title, word count and genre info at the beginning of a query, but I like the way this para is written and I would've mess with it. Move it to the top! It's your hook! :)

I think BLACK RIVER itself sounds like a fantastic book with a Romeo&Juliet love story at the heart, but surrounded with the dark intrigue of murder and other less than attractive human elements. I think what you need to do is boil down here what the focal point is (looks like the relationship) and hint at the other plot strings involved. But only hint - I feel like the major issue here is that you're trying to cram too much into the query and bogging it down.

What do my followers think?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Talk - CRYER'S CROSS by Lisa McMann

Before you jump into this week's review, check out my interview over at Jacqueline Gardner's site, in which I dish about my own writing process. Very scientific ;)

As a librarian I should know better than most not to judge a book by it's cover, right? That doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to beauty though, and my very first reaction to Lisa McMann's CRYER'S CROSS was, "Ooooohhh pretty."

Cryer's Cross is a small town, small in the sense that the entire high school population fits inside one room, divided into classes by the grouping of their desks. But a new family is in town, and their arrival means new desks have to be hauled up from storage and added to the mix.

Big deal, right? If you're senior Kendall Fletcher, it's a very big deal. Kendall's OCD demands that she be the first in the classroom every morning, that the desks all be in tight formation, the waste-basket turned so that the dent can't be seen and the window locks triple checked. Her friend since birth and long-suffering admirer Nico understands this quirk, and makes sure they get to school early so that she can address these issues before their lessons start.

But the new desk isn't the only change in school. Sophomore Tiffany Quinn disappeared last spring, leaving behind an empty spot that screams for attention in Kendall's brain, and the desk next to her - Nico's desk - isn't the same one that used to be there. Only her attention to detail would clue her in to the fact that the ancient carvings on the desktop from students of the past is different from the one that used to be there... and that it seems to be changing.

When Nico disappears Kendall's reprieve is to slip into the hyper focus of soccer with the only partner who can keep up with her - the brooding and handsome new arrival Jacian, whose own involvement in the disappearances is a matter of public conjecture. As the clamor in her brain continues to roar at her that something is wrong, the changing graffiti starts to speak to her with a voice - Nico's voice.

I know I usually only give you a recap of the books I review, wanting mostly to give you an introduction  to what I believe is a really good book worth reading. But for this particular one I want to add a note about the character of Kendall. I was intrigued not only by the cover art of this book, but by the idea that the female protagonist suffered from OCD - not something you usually see. Once I got involved I was drawn in by the fact that the OCD does not define Kendall, neither does her intense athleticism or the love-triangle. Instead, all these elements combine to paint a picture of a truly human character, as opposed to a caricature.

It's a great lesson for writers and readers - check it out!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts this week are erratic. I assume you've come to expect that, though.

1) I try to say random things sometimes in response to perfectly reasonable statements. You should try it sometime. Anyway, I finally got up the courage to order a flashy coffee from McDonald's and had actually written down a guide for myself in preparation for the drive-thru. Once I got there, I was informed that "the machine that makes hot drinks is broken." Which of course, I thought was really funny and I said, "It's OK, I'm my own machine that makes hot drinks." And then I thought (to myself), "Oh, technically... that's correct." Ewwwwww.

2) Stress is awesome. I love it. I thrive on it. None of those things are true. However, I do find myself to be much more productive when I'm stressed as I have an inherent need to *do* something about it. One of my poor stress-related choices last week was to eat three pieces of dessert pizza as an antidote to stress. A couple things - a) it doesn't work and b) you then feel stressed and fat.

3) One of my New Year's goals is to shed a little of my Writer's Waist. It's not bad, it's just not what it used to be either. So I've been hitting the treadmill everyday for at least a half hour* and forcing myself to move around unnecessarily. I've discovered something - running is one hell of a stress reliever, and also Pavlov was totally onto something. My treadmill is in my library and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is directly in my line of sight as I run. I now associate it with anger, pain, and being out of breath and will probably never, ever read it.

*Disclaimer - BBC does not actually run for the entire half-hour. BBC was not made for such things.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Debut Submission Experience With YA Novelist Cat Winters

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 a fellow member of the Lucky13's, a group of YA novelists who debut in 2013. Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, the story of a teen girl mourning the loss of her first love in 1918 California, where a flu has turned deadlier than a world war, and spirit communication has become a dark and dangerous obsession. The novel will be illustrated with early-twentieth-century photographs and is slated to be published by Amulet Books in Spring 2013. Cat is represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Cat can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

BBC: How much did you know about the submission process before you were out on subs yourself?

CW: I had been out on submission with two adult fiction manuscripts that never sold before I even wrote In the Shadow of Blackbirds, so I already knew quite a bit about the process. My first experience with having a book out with publishers occurred thirteen years ago and involved an entirely different agent. I didn't find any differences between trying to sell YA fiction versus adult fiction, aside from the fact that I learned what it's like to actually receive an offer!

BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?

CW: Speaking to that first experience, what surprised me most was how much a book's genre could affect its potential. At the time, I was trying to sell mainstream historical fiction for adults, but historical fiction was considered a dead market. I received glowing rejection letters from editors, saying, "I couldn't stop reading this book, even though I knew I'd have to turn it down." There's no way to predict when a market will be "hot" or "dead" or "oversaturated," so I found that particular reason for a pass extremely frustrating.
Also, I was surprised to learn that not all agented manuscripts find publishers. As many authors will tell you, it's not always your first books that sell, even if you're represented by extraordinary, superhuman agents.

BBC: Did you research the editors you knew had your ms? Do you recommend doing that?

CW: I only researched the editors who took a serious interest in In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I felt like I was jinxing myself by doing so, but curiosity got the best of me. I'd discourage researching an editor before he or she shows actual signs of potentially buying your book. It becomes a waste of your time and energy.

BBC: What was the average amount of time it took to hear back from editors?

CW: With In the Shadow of Blackbirds, the turnaround time was fast. Amulet made an offer on the book less than two months after they received it, and I knew about their interest even sooner.
From my past experiences, though, I'd say the "we're just not interested in this book in the slightest" types of passes came within a month. If an editor showed signs of liking the manuscript, it could take up to six months before we heard a response, and those were still rejections. Keep in mind there are numerous factors that can delay a publisher's decision—vacations, illnesses, jury duty, book fairs, etc. And it takes an entire editorial board, not just one editor, to approve the purchase of a book.

BBC: What do you think is the best way for an author out on submission to deal with the anxiety?

CW: Like everyone always says, keep busy. Write. Blog. Get caught up on your household to-do list you were putting off when you were polishing your manuscript. Read. Take a yoga class. Spend more time with your family and friends. Commiserate with other authors going through the same process. Just try not to watch the clock and wonder when that call will be coming. It always comes when you're not expecting it.

BBC: If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally? How did this kind of rejection compare to query rejections?

CW: The difference with rejections at this stage is that sometimes you hear how ridiculously close you were to getting a yes, which can drive you crazy.
If an editor gave me constructive feedback about how I could improve my book, I greatly appreciated the advice and discussed it with my agent. However, there are often generic "It wasn't for us" sorts of passes, and those you just have to shrug off. Eat some comfort food, take a long walk, and then get right back into your writing chair and keep going.

BBC: If you got feedback on a rejection, how did you process it? How do you compare processing an editor’s feedback as compared to a beta reader’s?

CW: I always got my agent's take on the feedback. If she said, "Okay, that editor just didn't get the book," I filed the rejection away and moved on. If an editor addressed a concern that continually came up, I would definitely try to figure out how to incorporate the suggestion. The experience is very similar to working with critique partners, but with editors, opinions become a matter of selling or not selling a book. The stakes definitely feel higher. You have to figure out how much you're willing to change your book and potentially compromise your original ideas in order to give the novel a chance in the world.

BBC: When you got your YES! how did that feel? How did you find out – email, telephone, smoke signal?

CW: I found out by telephone. I had just dropped off my son at his elementary school and was about to get the newspaper, when my twelve-year-old daughter opened the door to the house and said my agent was calling. My journey to this point had been such a long, grueling one that I had to hold onto the kitchen counter for support and went into a semi-state of shock when my agent said we'd received an offer. I was thrilled and grateful that my daughter was with me for that experience. She's read In the Shadow of Blackbirds, and she's shared me with my fictional characters all her life.

BBC: Did you have to wait a period of time before sharing your big news, because of details being ironed out? Was that difficult?

Yes, there was some waiting, which was difficult. I wanted to shout the news from the rooftops that very day, but I understood the need for secrecy when deals are being finalized. Instead, I bought myself some presents and took my family out to a celebratory dinner. I had been imagining that particular book-deal dinner for a very long time, and it was extraordinary.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Insomniac's Imagination

If you're anything like me, sometimes your brain won't turn off.

Some writers like this, and I freely admit that a 2AM brainstorm can be productive as hell. I'll take inspiration where I can find it, thanks. But there are those long nights when you have to hit the 40/wk bright and early and good old brain is like, "Check me out! Look at all the things I can do!" and it won't stop.

I've got a little soothing trick for what I call Imsomniac's Imagination. I write with other people's characters. I let that talkative brain chomp down on a character that's grabbed me from whatever I'm reading, or a favorite from a television series. It's great because the brain can run with it and I don't have to feel like I need to be responsible and jot something down before I forget it.

I'm not producing anything I can use as a writer, but I'm exercising my brain and giving it the freedom it wants in the dark hours. So try it next time you keep glancing at the clock and reminding yourself to go to sleep already.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

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.

Eighteen-year-old Rosa becomes separated from her family as they flee their Spanish homeland – and the Inquisition. Decent hook, I'd shorten it up with "flee the Inquisition." I realize that there were other Inquisitions, but most people immediately think "Spain." Now her life is in the hands of a stranger, Baha, an artist from the Ottoman Empire. He is her one hope of reaching Constantinople and reuniting with her family. Nice, but I'd rephrase slightly for flow and word count - you can mash the two sentences previous to this comment together - "Now her one hope of reaching Constaninople to reunite with her family lies with the stranger Baha..." As they travel together, Rosa's drive to find her loved ones is matched by a deepening desire for the man at her side. Nice.

Her family refuses to accept her marriage to a man Wait - they got married? of a different faith, but when janissaries arrest her father and brother, Rosa and Baha risk everything to rescue them. Together they will prove that their love can withstand their differences... if the Grand Vizier doesn't throw them both into the dungeons first. This is solid, minus the abrupt reference to marriage.

OUT OF THE WATER is a 15th Century historical romance, complete at 115,000 words. I admire your client [XXX] and found your website and newsletter through [his/her] blog. Based on what you say there, and in your interview on [BLOG (March 2011)], you might find OUT OF THE WATER a good fit for your interests. The novel was a 2010 NaNoWriMo project, and initial drafts were revised through participation in author Barbara Rogan's invitation-only Next Level Workshop. Good info here, relative and pertinent while not being ass-kiss or braggy.

The query that you've got here is damn solid, but there are two things that bother me. 
1) Is this YA or straight romance? You don't specify it as YA but the age of your protag has me curious.
2) Your word count is a mite high. I realize that historical can sometimes get away with this, but I bet you can find a way to shave this down. You don't want to handicap what is otherwise a really solid query with a sinker that has the weight of a stone.

Interested in what my readers think on this point? Can a historical romance with a teen protag get away with a high word count?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Talk - DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick

Two quick announcements before I jump into the book review - I'm up on both my group blogs today. On The Lucky 13s I'm sharing how I landed my agent and over on From the Write Angle I'm talking about the dirty deed - self-promotion.

If the cover art of Ilsa J. Bick's DRAW THE DARK doesn't make you want to read it, then perhaps my assurance that the prose contained therein is just as dark and haunting will.

Christian's parents disappeared when he was a child, mother not long after father. She claimed that her husband had "gone sideways" into a picture, and couldn't find his way out. Christian can only assume that she left to find him. Now in his teens, Christian has begun to paint the sideways place on his bedroom walls, losing himself to the hypnotism of his own brush - and more. Lately, he's been painting in his sleep.

And what he paints is a door.

The "draw" of DRAW THE DARK is double edged. Christian not only paints the mystery of his youth, but he funnels the darkness of those around him. Christian's ability to unknowingly illustrate the deepest secrets and darkness experiences of others has led to tragedy in his past - including his own culpability in the suicide of his third grade teacher, and the grisly death of his aunt.

Now, Christian has touched on the darkness that permeates his small hometown of Winter, Wisconsin. Swastikas appear on a local barn in the middle of the night, the skeleton of a malformed infant is discovered in the renovation of a centuries old home, and the sideways place is starting to resemble a Winter of the past. One that used to be home to a synagogue, and a large population of Jews.

As Christian stumbles onto a century-old unsolved murder, the darkness of the past continues to infect his present and he faces the question of whether he can continue to exist in a town where everyone knows he's not quite right, or if it would be best if he opened the door he hasn't painted a knob onto yet... and slipped sideways into the light.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

A couple quick announcements before the Thursday Thoughts. My fellow AgentQuery Connect member Robb Grindstaff has had some success lately that I want to share. Horror Bound magazine has named his short story, 'Desert Rain,' in their 'Best of Horror Bound: 2008-2011' edition. In fact, it's #2 in their top 10 stories they've published in the four years of the magazine's existence, chosen by readers and the editors.

And in BBCLand: I've been invited to join the Lucky13's, a group of YA and MG authors who debut in 2013. Drop in to our group blog and check out my fellow Lucky13er's!

Thoughts lately:

1) I got an iPad for Christmas (thanks, boyfriend). I adore it, but I can't help but wonder why there are virtual finger nubby placements on the F and J?

2) I like watching suspense / mystery films, but someday I'd love to see one with a really complicated plot that doesn't do the end reveal using:
     a) the Big Bad Baddy delivers the starndard My Evil Master Plan & How It Worked Speech right before he dispatches someone
     b) a series of mini-flashbacks with a voiceover to remind the viewer of what happened in the past hour or so or
     c) a character muttering key words aloud to themselves (usually in front of the Big Bad Baddy as they are in the process of figuring out s/he is in fact the BBB) to clue the viewer into their stream of consciousness while putting the pieces together.

3) I miss the '90s. They were pretty awesome. We had ER, The X-Files, grunge music, and one of the best Saturday Night Live casts since the show's inception. Also, style demanded you walk around looking unkempt and slightly bitter, which really suited me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Challenge Myself To A Duel

I'm ambidextrous, so I can do that.

I usually don't get involved in reading challenges, as I find myself challenged to read everyday. But as I finished up the WIP on Jan 1, (why yes, yes I did), I think I'm going to involve myself in two particular challenges that spoke to me.

First, The Dusty Bookshelf Challenge. As a librarian I've got books with serious dust issues in my home, and they need read, dammit. I'm signing up at Cobweb Level (15 books) My titles for that challenge:

1) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (Sin announcement - I borrowed that book nine years ago)
2) Lord of the Last Days by Homero Aridjis - I bought this when it was published, uh... 1995.
3) SPOOK by Mary Roach - This one has only been setting around for a year, but I keep putting it off because I'm chicken.
4) Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes - My sister has been pestering me to read this for a decade.
5) BLONDE by Joyce Carol Oates - This was a college graduation present from my roommate - in 2001.
6 & 7) Thunderstruck and In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson - I've had both since publication, 2006 and 2011, respectively.
8) Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King - bought at publication in 2010
9) Antony & Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough - bought at publication in 2007
10) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood - have had that one since... 2000
11) Case Closed by Gerald Posner - I'll say 2000 on that one too
12) A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink - on Goodreads shelf since May 2011
13) The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr - Goodreads shelf since June 2011
14) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux - Goodreads shelf since March 2011
15) The Wall by John Hersey - thin I've had that one since about 2000

So yeah, that should make everyone feel a little better about themselves, as far as reading accomplishments.

My other challenge is going to be the 2012 Debut Author Challenge from The Story Siren. In that one your goal is to To read & review a minimum of twelve young adult or middle grade debut novels between the dates of January 1, 2012 – January 31, 2013. I'm pretty sure I can do that!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An SAT with MG Author Terry Lynn Johnson

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 Terry Lynn Johnson, published author of DOGSLED DREAMS (2011). In her newest title, ICE DOGS, a 15-year old dogsled racer loses her way on a routine daytime outing with her dogs; with food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods, is up to her. ICE DOGS will be available Winter 2013 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Writing Process:
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
TLJ: I'm somewhere in between. I plan, then everything goes for a crap when I start to write.

BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
TLJ: My first draft is normally complete after a hectic four or five weeks. Not sure if that's called a novel though, more like a big pile of goob.

BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
TLJ: One is enough!

BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
TLJ: I have one half finished that I may get back to. I've discovered that if I don't stay on the writing wave the first draft, if I take a break, I have a hard time getting back to it. Could be because I have the attention span of a pea.

Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
TLJ: The most awesome Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency picked my query for ICE DOGS out of the slush pile. I was signed with her within three weeks of sending my query. We've never even met. That means if I can do it, anyone can.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
TLJ: I queried a few agents with an early draft of my manuscript, and received some great advice on how to revise. I'm so glad that happened, because then I sent the newly revised manuscript to Caryn!

BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
TLJ: I'm not convinced you need to stress over the query. It's the first pages that the agent reads, if they like it, they'll go back to the query. You have to catch their interest in the first pages!

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
TLJ: My book was face out in my local Chapters bookstore and I almost had a meltdown right there. I was pointing it out to complete strangers and taking pictures with my cell phone. So embarrassing!

BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
TLJ: I did have some on a technical error with regards to the sled. But other than that, not much.

BBC: What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
TLJ: That the writer is usually the last to know what is going on. I still don't know what is going on. What is going on???

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?
I have a blog, am on Twitter, and have my own website.

BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
TLJ: If you're a writer, I think you should have some kind of presence out there. A website is free. It's easy to join Twitter, and fun. And you can learn so much from other writers.

BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
TLJ: I don't think it hurts, unless you're a complete dork
(personal note, that last could be bad news for BBC!) :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Taking Stock

Yes, it's true. I raided a cattle herd over the holidays.

OK, not really. I just wanted to give you a funny visual because I couldn't come up with an original title for my Looking Back On 2011 post.

Obviously 2011 was really, really good to me. I got an agent, Adriann Ranta (who has a lovely speaking voice) in March, and a book deal with Sarah Shumway (nice voice, check) at Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins just recently. So, I can't complain. And I'm not going to.

What I am going to do is talk about what my goals were, and how I managed to hit one by the skin of my teeth. (And what the heck does that mean anyway? Huh... guess that's my Wednesday post accounted for). I'm sure everyone remembers my original goal was to finish the WIP up this summer, and the WoCoMoMo fiasco in which I got my rear beaten on my own blog as a result.

I backed my self-enforced WIP due date to Thanksgiving, but took some digestive time off when the book deal happened because I needed to roll around in sloth for awhile. And I highly recommend rolling around in some nice, hot sloth every now and then, because I broke into December like a rabid animal chasing  uh... something non-rabid and much smaller.

As of yesterday evening I can claim that the WIP is in fact, finished. I don't have to do my usual guilty sashaying in front of RC Lewis and muttering that I only have one more section to get through. And I checked my numbers: I wrote 113 pages and 32,000 words over the last week of November through yesterday evening.

2012 is looking good for a few reasons. The initial word vomit of the WIP first draft is finished, NOT A DROP TO DRINK is on Goodreads, and just yesterday it cracked the top ten in the Goodreads YA Novels of 2013 list. So drop in, put me on your to-read shelf, and vote for as many 2013 YA titles as you like - I want the Mayans to feel our hope trickling back through the ages. :)