Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Talk - MAGIC UNDER STONE by Jaclyn Dolamore

At the end of MAGIC UNDER GLASS we left Erris and Nimira about to embark on a journey to find Ordorio Valdana, a powerful sorcerer who may be able to restore Erris to his rightful body, rather than the half-flesh, half-clockwork prison brought him only halfway from his automaton state.

MAGIC UNDER STONE begins with the lovers in an unenviable position. Erris' body is partially restored, but his spirit still yearns for the full freedom of his faery body. Unable to love Nimira properly, he draws away from her, and as they travel to find Valdana she questions whether delivering Erris from one captivity to another was any kind of rescue at all.

Her hopes fall even lower when they arrive at Valdana's home to find the master gone, and the only servant a human girl whose face is badly scarred by fire. But there is another resident, one with a powerful charm around her to make those who meet her forget her existence; Violet, the daughter of Valdana and Mel, Erris' sister. Part-human, part-faery and 100% spoiled, Violet stands to inherit the faery throne as the last living Tanharrow.

But another family is on the throne of Telmirra, and a recently freed jinn is bound to their throne. The jinn's magic is able to counteract Violet's protective faery charm, and he remembers her after a chance meeting in the forest. Aided in part by the hair bow she innocently slipped into his hands so that he would not forget her, the reluctant jinn is forced to spill the secret of Violet's existence to his master.

With Erris' partially clockwork body damaged, and Nim's spirit weakened by the weight of his grief, they face a powerful enemy in a land where Erris' should reign, if only they can restore his body.

Dolamore once again captures her reader with a lyrical touch, easily bringing her readers back into Nimira's world within the first few sentences. Fans of MAGIC UNDER GLASS will be thrilled with the sequel!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An SAT With DEAD BLUE Author Elle Cosimano

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured another author over to the blog for an SAT (Successful Author Talk). Elle Cosimano is a fellow Lucky 13, who grew up in the Washington DC suburbs. The daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley, she majored in Psychology at St Mary’s College of Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. Her debut DEAD BLUE is a thrill-ride of a novel, in which a math-whiz from a trailer park discovers she’s the only student capable of unraveling complex clues left by a serial killer who’s systematically getting rid of her classmates. DEAD BLUE will be coming from Dial/Penguin Fall, 2013.

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

EC: If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have told you I’m a planner. By nature, at least. I’m a total Type A, list-making, life-planning, goal-oriented systems-thinker. My first novel was outlined on tidy color-coded note cards. And I think for my first time around that was important in helping me to envision the ending, so I could actually make myself get there. But I ended up re-writing that book… twice… from scratch. And as I learn more, and I become more confident, I’m loosening the reigns. The book I just finished was completely pantsed. And I loved the feeling of discovery that came with each new page. That doesn’t mean it won’t need a complete overhaul or major revision, but it was fun to cut loose with the pen for a while.

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

EC: Not counting research, from first word to last word, I usually spend eight to twelve weeks piecing together the first draft. Most of my time is actually spent in very intense revision.

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

EC: I try to write one story at a time, to keep my head in that character’s world. But simultaneously, I’m researching, reading, or gathering ideas for the next project.

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

EC: GAH! Yes! I hadn’t written a word of fiction in over fifteen years when I wrote DEAD BLUE. I had a very successful career, a busy family, and I was the breadwinner. Taking time for myself to write that first book wasn’t only daunting because I wasn’t sure I could do it (or do it well), but because it felt like such a selfish thing – to do something for myself, simply because I wanted to. My colleagues were confused and upset with me for taking time off to “write a book” of all things! My family was supportive, but afraid that we couldn’t afford so much time off. And I was afraid of disappointing all of them. I wasn’t afraid of failing myself. I was afraid of failing everyone else. Realizing that emphasized how badly I really did need to do this, just for me.

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

EC: DEAD BLUE was my first book. It showed promise but the plot was a mess. Thankfully, I found a talented and patient literary agent who saw something in my work. With her feedback, and the help of some very talented critique partners, I completely re-wrote the book. So I guess you could say the first incarnation of the story is in the proverbial trunk.

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

EC: I’ve never quit on a manuscript, but I did cannibalize the first story I ever dreamed up, and ended up donating its organs (bits and pieces of plot and character) to the two stories I’m working on now. I’ll get back to that story one day, but it will take some reimagining to revive it.

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

EC: My agent is Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency. I submitted a traditional query. She responded the same day requesting a full. I knew I loved Sarah right away because she communicated with me throughout her read. She’d send brief one-sentence emails with her reactions to different characters or scenes. Querying can be such a silent process, and those emails were a real comfort to me. I was a wreck of nerves! I signed with her the same week.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?  

EC: I took my complete manuscript for DEAD BLUE to the Big Sur Writers Workshop. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I made a deal with myself that if the editors, agents, and authors there hated my story, I’d go back to my full time job. And if there was hope, I’d attempt a round of queries. The story was well-received and I came away feeling pretty optimistic. When I returned home, I spent a few weeks polishing my letter and sample pages, and queried my top six agents. Five of the six requested the full. I signed with Sarah a week later.

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

EC: Read. Read. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. And read blogs too. There’s a wealth of information on craft, finding the right agent, self-promotion, and writing a saleable book! Submission guidelines and agent preferences are more accessible than ever. Read. Research. And most importantly, follow directions.

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

EC: I have a website, I tweet at @ellecosimano, I have a Facebook page, and I contribute regularly at Ink & Angst.

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

EC: I think the answer to this is different for every author and depends on your comfort level with various social networks. Personally, I’m glad my platform was established before I found my agent and sold my book, because it gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with other authors. So many valuable resources are shared within the online writing community. It would have been a very lonely process without the friends I’ve made along the way.

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

EC: I think social media is most successful when it’s used for its intended purpose… reaching out and participating in a broader community. When it’s approached as a reciprocal, caring, and genuine way to connect with others who share similar interests, then it truly opens doors. It makes us accessible to our readers, and to each other, and in doing so, encourages those connections to grow organically.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bloggity Blog Blog

I'm naming my next pet that. It'll be fun to stand on the front porch and yell, "Heeeereeee, Bloggity Blog Blog! Dinnnnner, Bloggity Blog Blog!"

Not really. And if you'd like to read a real blog post from me today, head on over to From the Write Angle, where I'm talking about how to behave on the internet. And yes, I actually do consider that from time to time.

And if you're *really* interested in all the things I have to say about stuff, come see the Truth or Dare I'm playing today over at the Friday the Thirteeners blog. I've been initiated :)

And if you're not completely sick of me at that point, I'm over at Suzi Retzlaff's blog for the continuing Big Reveal series, along with some other fabulous authors.

So I've been blogging for a year, and I admit to loving the crap right out of it. I hope you love the crap right out of it, too.

And now it's your chance to tell me what you want. You may have noticed that I dropped the Wednesday Wolf (word origins) posts, and I haven't been doing Thursday Thoughts either. Do you miss it? Do you want to know where we get our archaic phrases and what I'm thinking about random stuff? Do you like my interviews? What about the book reviews? More vlogs? Or do you never want to see my stinky face again?

More? Less? The same?

There's a handy little poll hanging out under my face ---------------------------------->>>

It'll be there until 3/31. So will my face.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Read the First 50 Pages of SLIDE by Jill Hathaway!

I had a lot of response from the review of SLIDE by Jill Hathaway, and I've got great news for everyone who got so excited - you can read the first 50 pages of SLIDE on the Harper site.

Enjoy!

Jill is also doing a SLIDE blog tour which you can follow here.

And SLIDE has an awesome trailer to go with the equally awesome premise:





The Saturday Slash

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.

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.

Having a ghost attached to you isn’t exactly what sixteen year old hyphenate age, Bailey Green, don't need the commas around your MC's name would call ideal. The victim of a drowning––Hannah Melbrooke has been haunting Bailey for three years with no explanation. Haunting how? Is she creepy? Friendly? Due to Hannah’s extended stay, Bailey is forced to come to terms with the ghost who is incapable of leaving the confines of her bedroom; a semi-colon is used to join clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, which the second half of this can't due to an unknown force. You definitely need a stronger hook. So she's being haunted - so what? That's the premise of every ghost story. What makes yours unique? I think the answer is in the idea that the ghost is trapped in the bedroom, and the force that keeps here there, but it's the last thing you mention in your first para. Rework to get that front and center.

Bailey doesn’t realize that the more she believes in Hannah, the stronger she becomes, granting her freedom from her prison. When Hannah escapes into the outside world, Bailey’s haunting burden becomes an impossible secret to keep. With her social life invaded by the ghostly figure, Bailey begins to see Hannah for who she really is––a spiteful soul looking for vengeance. OK - I needed this sooner. I had no idea what their relationship was like. Having a ghost in your bedroom 24/7 and the MC's belief in her setting her free strikes me as more of a chummy paranormal sleepover than a vengeful spirit. Get that relationship out there. It's bad. It's evil. It's creepy-ass.

After a near-drowning inflicted by Hannah, their bond grows stronger as her brush with death breaks the seal between their worlds, leaving Bailey vulnerable for Hannah to extract her energy––the key to her resurrection. Awkward sentence. Bailey’s best friend, Eric Montgomery, becomes her true weakness, giving Hannah the crutch she needs to demand Bailey’s cooperation. Sounds like there's a romance buried in here, and that it's going to be exploited by bad girl Hannah. Capitalize on that in your query, and move the idea of a near-drowning and a death bond nearer to the meat of your query. It seems like it's the crux of the story, get it out there.

In DROWNING BAILEY, darkness surrounds the ghostly girl who seeks to consume Bailey’s life as her own––a life that should have been hers. Searching to uncover Hannah’s past, Bailey discovers the unexpected truth of their connection. With this new information, she hopes to find the answers that will put Hannah to rest, before she destroys both Bailey’s life and her soul. This last para sounds very much like a quick synop, not a closing hook for a query. But here's the thing - it's raising some elements that weren't addressed earlier that make me perk up and want to know what you're talking about. A life that should have been hers? Bailey researching Hannah's past? A dark connection? 

There's more going on in this last para than the whole query. And Eric only gets a fleeting mention yet he seems to be a leverage point that the whole story could turn on. I think you need to figure out what the main element of the story itself is - entangled past lives? The threat of Hannah in the present? Bailey's weakness for Eric being the push point for the whole domino ride to come down?

It sounds like there's a lot going on in the story, that it would be fast paced and interesting. But the query itself is all over the place and doesn't seem focused, which is going to make an agent wonder if the same thing is wrong with the ms. Hammer down the *most* important elements and get that out there. You've got some great phrases and really cool ideas. I like the premise a lot, and I think the title is catchy, you just need to get a focus.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Talk - SLIDE by Jill Hathaway

Sylvia fights sleep with prescription drugs and caffeine as her weapons. But narcolepsy always gets the upper hand, and with it comes the slide.

A borrowed shirt from her sister, an earring picked up in the school hallway, a piece of paper taped to the front door - any of these things can carry an emotional imprint that slides Sylvia into the body of the owner. An impotent passenger, she's along for the ride until she awakes.

So far in life her ability has only been a nuisance and an embarrassment. Her best guy friend, Rollins, thinks she has OCD because she refuses to touch other people's belongings, and she's slid into classmates at times when they most certainly wouldn't want other people to know what they were doing.

But chance slides Sylvia into the body of a murderer moments after the crime was committed. She knows that her little sister's best friend didn't kill herself, but she can't tell anyone. No matter how much she wants to alleviate her sister's guilt over the nasty prank she pulled the day before her friend supposedly killed herself, Sylvia's tongue is tied.

When another classmate kills herself, Sylvia begins to force the slide in an effort to get to the killer before he claims his next victim. She desperately lifts personal items from the teacher who may have been the father of one victim's unborn baby. A gift from Rollins accidentally lands her in his body only minutes before the death of another victim, who he is with.

The slide is teaching her that nothing is what it seems, and you never know anyone as well as you thought.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An SAT with Jill Hathaway, Debut Author of SLIDE

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Jill Hathaway, debut author of SLIDE, coming from Balzer & Bray, March 27, 2012. Jill Hathaway lives in the Des Moines area with her husband and young daughter. Having earned her BA in English Education from the University of Northern Iowa and her MA in Literature from Iowa State University, she teaches high school English and dual credit courses for Des Moines Area Community College.

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

JH: I'm definitely a panster, although my agent and editor are trying to whip me into a planner. Synopses are the devil. I'd much rather sail along and discover the story as I go, but (with mysteries especially) that makes for a whole lot of rewriting.

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

JH: The rough draft usually only takes me 4-6 weeks, but then I spend months and months revising (see the rewriting comment above).

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

JH: I prefer to work on one project at a time; otherwise, I lose my focus. Normally I draft a story during the summer (because, as a teacher, that's when I have free time) and then revise throughout the school year.

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

JH: I was very much afraid that I wasn't capable of finishing a novel. I'd write lots of beginnings and never see them through. It wasn't until NaNoWriMo that I learned to let my first draft suck because I could always go back and fix it. So now I go full steam until I get that first draft finished.

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

JH:  I have one trunked novel from before I was agented and one trunked novel that I wrote the summer after signing with my agent.

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

JH: I'm not sure I've completely given up on any of my stories. It would just take a lot of time and effort to resuscitate them, and I'm not sure it's worth it if no one's interested in buying them.

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

JH: I'm represented by the practically perfect Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency. She plucked me out of the slush pile.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?

JH: I queried about 100 agents with my first (now, trunked) novel before giving up. Then I wrote a better story and landed an agent within a few weeks. I think it's all about finding the right story and never giving up.

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

JH: Well, like I said, never give up. If no one wants your first novel, write another one. And another one. Until you write something awesome enough that everyone wants it.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale? 

JH: Seeing SLIDE on Amazon for the first time was cool, but I can't even imagine how it will feel to see my book on the shelf at a bookstore.

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

JH: None on my first cover. I got to see a cover comp for SLIDE, and then the first cover, and then (when marketing didn't go for that one) a NEW cover. I did give a little feedback on the IMPOSTOR cover (but not much). Really, design isn't my thing, so I'm fine with it.

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

JH: Everyone says this, but it's true. It's sloooooooooooooow and then it's superfast! Like I'll wait months for something to happen and then a million amazing things (cover! ARCs! reviews!) happen all at once.

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you?  

JH: I do quite a bit, but it's because I enjoy it. If I'm bored, I'll pop on Twitter and chat for a while. Blogging has become more of a pain as I don't know how much I can really share, but I try to keep up on it. Facebook is just plain fun.

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

JH: If by "platform" you just mean building connections, I say before. Connections always help--with other authors, bloggers, readers, agents, editors. It's really a community. You help others and rack up good karma points.

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

JH: I'm not far enough along in the process to be able to say definitively, but I have seen friends of mine with thousands of followers go really far (like the NYT bestseller list), but others with lots of followers have moderate success. I think publisher support really makes all the difference.

Thanks for having me and congrats again on your debut!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Truth or Dare?

'Cause you know you wanna play that game with me, right?

I'm proud to announce that I'm being inducted today over at Friday the Thirteeners, a small group of YA authors debuting in 2013. We're a fun bunch, and we want you to check out our playground. Pop on over to our blog to say hi, and submit a Truth or Dare for meek, mild-mannered me.

It'll be fun.

Or possibly horrific.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Self-Image in The Hunger Games

Yeah, you read that right.

Since publication, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games has been the subject of more than one parental tirade against the violence depicted therein. While this post isn't focused on that topic, the one thing I do want to say is that whenever I hear an adult ranting about any book my first question is, "Have you read it?" Haven't had a "yes" answer to that one yet.

Instead, I want to focus on something The Hunger Games gives teens without being preachy, without talking down to them, and possibly without them even knowing they've learned a powerful lesson.

How tired are you of effortlessly gorgeous female teen characters? How about the rich one with the designer everything who is torn between two ultra hot guys? Or the girl from the wrong side of the tracks that's hitting an 11 on the 10 scale and the guy on the right side of the tracks who falls for her? Are you sick of perfect skin, glossy hair and full lips? 'Cause I sure as hell am.

Katniss kicks ass across the board. Sure, she can kill people in fun and imaginative ways, but the first time we see her she's using her skills to fill the fundamental need of feeding her family, alongside longtime guy friend Gayle. Her love for her little sister sends her to the stage to take Prim's place in a contest where she knows the odds are against her and her life is at stake.

And what does Katniss look like? Well ... we're really not sure. She's got dark hair, and it's usually in a braid. Due to the fact that she's from the poorest area of a poor district and has to hunt her food we can assume she's probably not terribly clean all the time and might even *gasp* smell bad occasionally.

Once a handful of professionals get a hold of her Katniss cleans up and gains attention from the world, but guess what? Ultra-hunky Gayle and super-sweet Peeta were already in love with her, before she got a dress that caught on fire and became the de facto spokeswoman for world peace.

Hmmm ... what could have possibly attracted them to her in the first place? Could it be ... her personality!?!?

One of my favorite lines from the entire series comes from a scene in Mockingjay when Katniss goes to see Peeta after he has been conditioned to despise the polished and public version of her persona, and he says, "You're not very big, are you? Or particularly pretty?" (p. 230).

Katniss even points out her physical shortcomings, in a refreshing non-self-pitying manner: "With my acid-damaged hair, sunburned skin, and ugly scars, the prep team has to make me pretty and then damage, burn, and scar me in a more attractive way." (p. 59).

Katniss has been through battles, bested her enemies, won over the world and had a guy on each arm the whole time.

And she's not "particularly pretty."

Good for her.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Saturday Slash

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.

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.

Twenty-five-year-old space pirate “Trig” I don't think you need his name in quotes, even if it's actually a nickname is the son of the man who invented the quantum drive

starship; but he'd rather be famous for his own reasons, or treasons as the case may be. Decent hook. I'd consider using a dash instead of a comma there at the end to set apart the "treasons" line with some white space, as that's your real punch. Perhaps even set it apart as it's own sentence. 

Since his father's death Trig has been freebooting about the multiverse, and even this "and even" makes me feel like you're trumping something earlier in the sentence, but there's nothing there to one-up. I'd consider dropping the "and" and changing your verb to "escaping" for flow escaped the Vaxaxian
prison moon. Slight issue here on the first read. Lots of information being thrown at me and I didn't quite process what "Vaxaxian" was / is / means until a third run through the sentence, and I'm still not sure if I'm right. Is Vaxaxian a government or a ruling species and the prison-moon belongs to / is run by them? Or is Vaxaxian the name of a moon that doubles as a prison? A bona fide buccaneer, the only thing quicker than Trig's draw is his wit and the only thing shorter than his temper is the time it takes his hastily-laid plans to blow up in his face. Nice line. Very nice. Happy now.


When Trig steals the shiny new Rising Sun, fastest and first sentient starship since the machine
rebellion, he still can't outrun his past. Nice, but rephrase for flow. The ship description in the middle of the sentence tripped me up. The stubborn Sun's design reminds Trig of his father's ships; and Ort—the sizable, six-armed, cannibalistic captain of the warship hot on Trig's heels—is the same Vaxaxian Trig escaped from and embarrassed on the prison moon. Pretty good - you jammed a lot of info into that sentence but it worked out well. Nicely done. It also explains my earlier questions in relation to "Vaxaxian" but I'd still rework that first phrasing a little so as not to lose an agent before they get to this explanation. Ort's out for blood and Trig hasn't even another "even" use that I'm not sure is working convinced the Sun to come along for the ride. I get what you're saying here and I do like it in this last sentence but I think it needs to be smoothed out a little in terms of the idea. You're saying that he's having trouble controlling the ship (which really, that's a good thing since there'd be no plot if he had the fastest ship in the universe and needed to outrun someone) but I need that spelled out just a little better. Seriously, just a tiny tweak there.

From a mysterious shipwreck in a dark fungal jungle to the final showdown on a forsaken space
station, what begins as a joyride of epic proportions spirals quickly out of control. His biggest concern
used to be escaping his father's shadow; now Trig would settle for escaping with his skin. Nice, nice! Hooray! Love the sinker.

Honestly I think this is a pretty darn great query. I get the whole idea of Trig and his lawlessness, his humor is there in the query voice, and it sounds like an outright fun time. I'm assuming that what we have here is a man vs. machine in that he can't get the Sun to do what he wants it to do, or what it's supposed to do, in order to escape his pursuers. I'd hash that out a little harder, as it's an important point to be clear about. It's *there* I'd just hit it really hard with a hammer before sending this out.

I would clear up the Vaxaxian thing too, simply because a lot of your sentences here are very wordy, and jammed with information. For the most part, you dole it out very, very well. But that one tripped me up enough to stop me in my tracks as a cold reader, and I don't know that an agent will pause to do the untangle. Over all, well done. :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Talk - EREBOS by Ursula Poznanski

There's something going around Nick's London high school, and he actually wants to catch it.

His friend Colin has been acting odd ever since getting a blank DVD case from the gamer geeks they've labeled Freak One and Freak Two. Except now Colin is much more interested in making time with the Freaks than hanging out with Nick. His friend isn't the only one acting odd; Nick can't miss the fact that even his enemies seem to be part of something that he's excluded from.

Until someone slips him a DVD too, promising that he's receiving a most wonderful gift.

And after a few hours in front of his laptop, Nick has to agree. Erebos is a world where Nick immediately feels comfortable in the skin of his role-playing alter ego, Sarius. In the guise of Sarius, he walks the twisted woods and the White City of Erebos, fighting his way to higher levels, better weapons, and the ultimate prize of a wish crystal.

Soon, Nick is skipping basketball practice and missing class just like everyone else, pushing forward on the never-ending seesaw of gaining levels only to lose them to injury. He was warned when he agreed to play - you only enter Erebos once. You die, you're done. Mortal injuries usually spur the arrival of the Messenger, who will gladly restore your health for a favor... in the real world.

Nick sees no harm in performing what seem to be trivial tasks in the real world - moving a box from one hiding place to another, taking pictures of a man in a parking garage - until he discovers a wish crystal and the Messenger lets him in on the secret of their value.

They grant wishes in the real world.

And now Nick will do anything to keep playing Erebos, along with hundreds of other players whose seemingly mundane tasks are building a web for the ultimate revenge.

EREBOS has been sold in 25 countries and translated into 23 languages. It's now available in English from Annick Press. Gamers and non-gamers alike will be sucked into this fast-paced world where the lines between reality and fantasy are very, very thin.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An SAT with Lucky13'er Jessica Corra

Today's SAT (Successful Author Talk) guest is a fellow Lucky13'er. Jessica Corra's debut, AFTER YOU is about seventeen-year-old Camilla Jay who has the power of second chances. She can rewind to any day and relive it, and she remembers everything. A tragedy like the death of her twin sister Madelyn shouldn’t be possible. Camilla rewinds to the same day over and over, but Madelyn dies each time – by her own hand. Madelyn doesn’t want saving. Madelyn’s death allows Cam to finally connect with her long-time crush Wall. As they grow closer, Camilla uncovers a series of writings Madelyn did about her own ability to forward in time. Madelyn believed killing herself was the only way to save Camilla from a horrible fate. Cam’s not convinced.

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

JC: A plantster. I do prework on paper before I type anything, in which I explore character and guess at plots and stuff, and I draw a little plot arc and make sure I know my key scenes. The first thing I do for any story is write a blurb, though, I can’t work on it until I’m happy with my blurb. But once I have those key scenes I just intuitively write between them, and I actually pants my revisions, go figure.

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

JC: From idea to the end of the first draft, about 6-8 weeks. Each revision pass is another 2-4 weeks. I type really fast.

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

JC: One project at a time, although if I get really stuck, I’ll try switching gears just a little, but I only ever have one primary project.

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

JC: Dismay at my overall incompetence and the stench of my previous failure? Seriously, the same fears all writers have: that I don’t know what I’m doing and any minute now they’ll figure it out. That’s more a later stage fear, though, so I’ll add there’s always the fear of not being able to make it happen.

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

JC: Eight? Let me think. AM, CoaAG, P, TDT, TFC, TDB, CT – wait, no, I guess that’s only seven. ☺

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

JC: See the previous question. Those all have completed first drafts. TFC and CT also went through revisions and were queried, but seeing the feedback I knew they weren’t ready for primetime after all and moved on. The ones I didn’t bother revising were either genres I didn’t want to pursue or just plain practice novels. I don’t “know” when it’s time; I just have a feeling.

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

JC: The Ay-May-ZING Suzie Townsend of Nancy Coffey Literary. I went the traditional query process, but another agent offered before Suzie so there was a bit of a race.

BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?

JC: That depends: I queried one of the trunked books in 2008 and then didn’t send anything out again until 2010, so technically 2 years? Actively, though, maybe six months across three manuscripts. Around 100 queries across three manuscripts, all told.

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

JC: I will point you to this post on my blog. You have to believe in yourself before you can ask anyone else to.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

JC: I’ll let you know. But seeing my contract was numbing.

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

JC: I don’t. I get consultation like most authors, which means I say, “I’m just the writer; make it pretty,” and then I’ll coo over it when it’s done.

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

JC: I am not as impatient as I thought. Things go as fast as they go and you can’t make them go any faster, so sit down and shut up. And I get really giddy over the idea of interior layout. Fonts! :squee:

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

JC: I assume I’ll do a lot of my own marketing, blog tours, guest posts, etc. I’m very out-going and I love meeting people, though, so “marketing” to me just means doing what I already do: connecting with people. I expect to set up a lot of local signings and I hope to go to more cons and things. I’m a people person. I enjoy my blog. I don’t blog about writing. I blog about Deep Things and pretend I am a life coach and sometimes there are photos of food. I tweet up a storm.

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

JC: Platform. Sigh. The thing I talk about most on my blog is being yourself. Platform doesn’t really mesh with that. I think you should jump into social media when you’re comfortable and just connect. Don’t think about it as platform-building. Certainly, in terms of marketing, though, you want to be out there as early as possible so you have a built-in following, but it’s all in your motivation. You’re selling something, but you’re not there to sell anything, if that makes any sense.

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

JC: Absolutely. I have discovered some of my favorite authors through social media and made some of my dearest friends the same way, incidentally, so I’m a big fan of social media. No one is going to dispute that word of mouth sells books. Social media is just another form of potential word of mouth. The more enthusiastic your fan base, the more the readership will grow. It feeds itself, really.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stick Mindy!

Who knew my vlog about author photo freak-out would inspire artwork?

Thanks to my agency mate Cyndi Marko for this fantastic pencil sketch of me, complete with conical boobs and chin dimple.

Also, everyone check me out on Suzi Retzlaff's blog answering this week's question!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Necessary, Interchangeable Writer's Masks

For those of you who follow me on From the Write Angle, you'll know this is a repost. Forgive me. I'm lazy.

I'm a first baseman. My job is the under-appreciated task of stopping the ball. I have to catch the ball whether it's in the dirt, over my head, directly in the runner's path, or barreling towards my face at seventy miles an hour. If I don't the runner gets one base, at least. I've been cleated, elbowed in between the shoulder blades by the less sportsmanlike runners, and on one memorable occasion, line-drived in the boob when I turned my head for a split second in acknowledgement of a particularly nasty jeer from the other team's bench.

I kinda think first basemen are under-appreciated, but I love my position, despite the fact that I'm reminded by everyone when there's a lefty in the box to "get ready," as if I couldn't put that together on my own. Although that one might actually be on me due to the boob incident.

In any case, my freshmen year in high school I wanted a varsity letter. Badly. But there was a very talented girl two years older than me who had a claim staked on first base, deservedly. So the coach, after having noticed my trained-dog response to not allowing balls get past me said, "Hey, I know you're 5'9" but how do you feel about catching?"

I didn't feel so good about it.

Catching meant an extra twenty pounds of equipment. Catching meant crouching for long periods of time and ignoring the pain in my thigh muscles. Catching, in fast-pitch softball, meant something flying at me repeatedly at sixty to seventy miles an hour, and a girl in between me and it who had to whip the stick around fast enough to make contact.

And because I was in high school, catching also meant smashed, sweaty hair and frequent breakouts.

But catching was also going to mean a varsity letter, if I wanted it badly enough. And I did. So I shut my mouth, and I was a catcher. I had to learn new tricks, like flipping the mask off quickly enough to make the long throw to second in case of a steal. And I had to unlearn old habits. At first base I had it ingrained in me to cut the distance between the ball and my glove in order to beat the runner. Reach for it. Stretch. Do the splits if necessary.

Yeah. You can't really do that as a catcher. It's called interference. And if the batter decides to swing at that particular pitch, it's called a broken hand. Trust me on that one.

How does this relate to writing?

I know you hate it, but we're past the days where you are just a writer. We can no longer sit happily in isolated homes with a typewriter and mail off our new ms when it's finished.

You are not just a writer. If you want to succeed you are also a social networker, a forum contributer, a self-marketer, a publicist, a blogger, a Facebooker, a tweeter and uh ... a Pinterest ... er. Or something. You have to wear all those masks, and be ready to flip one off and put the other on at any given moment throughout the day in order to get what you want in the end.

Unlearn the old habit of telling yourself you are a writer, and a writer only. If I had insisted on being a first baseman I would not have earned my varsity letter as a freshman. Arguably, I also wouldn't have broken my hand, but it serves as a reminder that there will be pains along the way as you learn your new roles.

It's not easy, it's not always fun. But it's where we are now as writers. Now take the field.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Saturday Slash

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.

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.

Cara lives in quiet monotony, oblivious to the fact that her soul has been altered.  Her ersatz father magically removed any hint of independence while she was still a baby making her eminently tractable.  Now it’s only a matter of time before he trades her life for immortality. Holy vocabulary words, Batman! It's OK, I'm smart too, and I know what these words mean. I get that you're trying to impress the agent, but the thing is that the average reader might not know what all these words mean, which means the text might not be accessible. If your ms is sprinkled with words like this and the query is good representation of the book then I suppose this is alright, but if it's not then you need to rethink how you're introducing yourself here. The hook is buried under some pretty heavy verbiage, and if the agent thinks your plot might be too, you've got a date with the Delete button.

But when he removed her strong will from her magical essence I'd straight up use the word soul here, unless the magical essence is something else?, the girl’s inherent power warped the spell, creating an unseen second infant I know what you're actually saying, because I've read your query before, but what this says is that there's an invisible baby somewhere to house what she had lost. I love the phrasing here, and I think this first line is really strong. I'd try to incorporate this into your hook, as it's the crux of your story After he takes Cara to the Keep, a nursemaid elopes I know what the word actually means, but its modern connotation makes this read like she just ran off to marry an invisible baby with her new twin. Two infants, one soul, separated for twenty years with no knowledge of their true connection. Again, here's a great line. And again, it should be in your hook.

When her father's immortality ritual fizzles – neither killing Cara nor immortalizing him – he is forced to sacrifice regular men to bolster his flagging powers. Nice, well-phrased, concise. You need this language throughout. Captain Hunter arrives I'd rephrase to illustrate that he is a prisoner, arrives makes it sound voluntary at the Keep, slated for death, and shatters Cara's emotional isolation with a potent mix of attraction and guilt. YES good stuff here Moved by his plight, she plots their escape and meets her other half, I'd isolate this phrase with dashes instead of commas to make it stand out a warrior maiden named Falin, the other dash going here during their harrowing flight.

As they begin to piece together the terrible wrong done to them, her father discovers for himself strike for himself that Falin is the spell’s missing piece. The women must destroy him before he sacrifices them both. Great sinker - you've got the key struggle of the plot right here, but I'd reiterate that the point of the sacrifice is to successfully reenact the botched spell from years earlier.

I think what needs the most attention here is your hook, and most of my reasoning is spelled out above. I think your second para is unnecessary as it holds the main ideas you need in your hook. Rework that, cut and paste with elements of your opener and that second para to get together a tight, concise hook. The third para and your closer are spot on, with a little rewording I think you're looking pretty good!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My One Year Blogiversary & My First Vlog

Well, it's happened.

I've been blogging for a year and I knew I wanted to do something special for everyone to thank you for following me for 12 whole months. Unfortunately for you guys I'm not really a hugger (not even a digital hugger) so I can't give you e-hugs or anything like that. It's an Irish thing.

But what I DID do was make my first vlog. Enjoy.



Book Talk: AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN by Anne Barnhill

A fresh perspective on the tragic tale of Anne Boelyn, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN is told from   the viewpoint of Lady Margaret Shelton, the younger cousin of Queen Anne and an ancestor of the author.

"Pretty Madge," as Margaret is called, is called to the court of Henry VIII to be a queen's lady to her first cousin. At first appalled at the lax morals of the court, Madge soon learns that underneath her flirtations of courtly love, Queen Anne is moral, and more importantly - devout. Her support of the monasteries and priories that Cromwell plunders to feed the King's purse is stressed here, as is her faith, which I found refreshing.

Even though the Anne we see through Madge's eyes is not the morally lax witch we're so accustomed to, she retains her sharp tongue and inability to handle any slight. Henry's sexual appetites constantly land him in hot water with the Queen. As she ages, and loses two sons after the birth of Princess Elizabeth, the desperate Queen looks for some way to secure Henry's affections.

If she cannot win him back to her, she can at least make sure that his bedmate is someone loyal to her, and not Jane Seymour, whose family has pushed her (literally) into Henry's lap more than once. Even though Madge has fallen in love with Arthur, the bastard born son of a noble, she has retained her purity at court, even though the husband Henry intends for her has tried to take it by force more than once.

Anne knows that Madge has attracted Henry's eye, so she strikes a deal with her handmaiden. If Madge will warm Henry's bed, and fill his ear with positive talk of the Queen, she'll break the engagement to the odious man Henry means to pair Madge with, and give her blessing to Madge's marriage to her baseborn lover.

Madge's love for her cousin and Queen wars with the dual specter of her conscience and love for Arthur. If she can bring the King back to the Queen's side and the pair produce a prince, the country will be back on solid ground and Anne's throne assured for life.

But that means sharing the bed of a man she finds loathsome, and sacrificing all she's been taught to hold pure.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An SAT with Anne Clinard Barnhill

Today's SAT (Successful Author Talk) guest is a fellow member of Book Pregnant, a group of 30 debut authors across all genres. Anne Clinard Barnhill has been writ­ing or dream­ing of writ­ing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has pub­lished arti­cles, book and the­ater reviews, poetry, and short sto­ries. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like grow­ing up with an autis­tic sis­ter. Her historical fiction debut, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN features one of her own ancestors as the main character. At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne’s ambition.

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

ACB: Hard question. For my first two novels, which have made a happy home for themselves under my bed, it was seat-of-my pants. I had an idea of where I wanted to go, what I wanted to write about, but mostly, I just plunged in. For AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, I had a mental plan but again, mostly felt my way through the novel. The current one, as yet untitled, has an outline because my editor wanted one and wanted to know I did have a plan.  So now, I'm trying to make more of a plan before I start.

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

ACB: Ha! This is another tricky question. I have one under-the-bed-novel I've been trying to fix for at least a dozen years. On the other hand, I wrote AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN in about a year, the majority of it in three weeks. I don't have a particular time-frame.

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

ACB: I usually do one fiction project at a time. Sometimes, I'll add a little poetry in, just to put my mind in a different place. But I stick mostly to one thing.

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

ACB: I have to overcome fears EVERY time I sit down to write. Can I do it? Can I do it well enough? Will my editor like it? Will I like it? Is it stupid? Am I stupid? Well, you get the idea. I am riddled with doubts and fears, completely neurotic. I think most artists are that way. It's ridiculous.

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

ACB: And by trunked, you mean what I call Under-the-Beds? I have two, no, make that three-I forgot the YA fantasy. I think that's it.

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

ACB: Yes, I have quit on the one I call OPAL. It had an agent once, back in the 90's. The agent couldn't sell it and I decided it was just not ever going to be worth a hoot. I have now moved on and have no more interest in it. When I  no longer felt any affection for it, I knew it was time to let it go. It was the first one I wrote.

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

ACB: My agent is Irene Goodman and we met at the South Carolina Writers Workshop conference at Myrtle Beach, gee, it must have been 2008. I was on the faculty and so was she. We were standing next to each other at the happy hour and she asked me what I was working on. I told her about the Tudor novel, explaining I had just started it. But the really amazing thing was, as we talked, she really knew what I was talking about--she knew the major players, the culture, the whole 16th century. Most people (friends and family) had a sort of dazed look when I talked about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn but Irene loved the era as much as I did. By the end of our conversation, she'd given me her card and asked for a sample. She loved the sample and we were on our way.

BBC: How many queries did you send?  

ACB: Well, for that particular book, I didn't ever query. But for my first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me (memoir) I queried about 20 agents. Many were encouraging but didn't take the book. I sold the book directly to a British publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Which is a whole other story, way too long and convoluted to go into here.

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

ACB: Just keep swimming. Remember the movie, Finding Nemo? The little confused fish, Dorie, says that, no matter what danger approaches. So, I tell myself, just keep swimming. All writers are rejected. You have to persevere. Believe in yourself and in your work.

On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?

ACB: Wow! It was surreal, wonderful, exciting, terrifying. Just about every feeling rolled into one. To hold it, to see it, just the best feeling in the world--a dream come true.

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

ACB: For the memoir, I suggested the cover, which is a picture of my sister and me dressed in the same yellow, dotted-Swiss dress my grandmother had made. They took that idea and did beautifully.For AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, St. Martin's did the whole thing and the effect is stunning, if I may say so. I did request they change the gable hood for a French hood, and they did so very quickly. I LOVE my cover!

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

ACB: I was surprised by how long it takes and by how much I don't know about the process, even now.

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

ACB: I have a website where I can blog if I want.  I have not done much blogging but maybe that will change. I have a facebook fan page and I'm on Twitter. My son set it up so when I write on my FB page, it shows up on twitter. I never check it--I really don't 'get' the twitter thing. 

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

ACB: Hmmm. I don't have a natural platform--I think of a platform like, if I were a psychiatrist and I wrote some sort of self-help book, my professional experiences, clients, peers, etc, would be my platform. I visit a lot of awesome Tudor sites: theanneboleyfiles, on the Tudor Trail, Queen Anne Boleyn, the Tudor Tutor--there are many more as well. I enjoy learning and exchanging ideas on these sites.

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

ACB: I really don't know. I suppose it helps, though I'm not quite sure how. I think if you write the best book you can at the time, trying to make it as perfect as you can at that time, you'll do okay. Someone told me most fiction books do not make back their advance--I find that scary but also freeing in a weird way. I try not to worry too much about readership (don't get me wrong; this is a constant problem for me!) and get on to the next project, immerse myself in the writing. After all, that's why I started--I love to write, a tell stories. If I can keep that focus, all will be well.

Thanks so much for having me here, Mindy!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lazy Days

Before you get to my post, I'm up over at Book Pregnant today, talking about ugly babies.

Awhile ago I talked about making shit happen. I’m still a big fan of that, but I’m also the occasional fan of not doing jack shit.

And I think we need those days, as writers and as people.

One of the most commonly quoted pieces of writing advice that I strongly disagree with is write every day.

I don’t write every day. I try to approach writing as a real job, and that means you get the weekends off. It also means that every now and then you’re really sick of it and kind of feel like you’d rather stab yourself in the face than go to work.

And you know what? That’s OK.

Yesterday was one of those days for me. Even if I’m not going to write I try to find something that will take me a little closer to the goals I’ve set for myself. This week is supposed to be the genesis of my first vlog.

So I decided I needed to do some vlogging attempts. Which meant doing my hair. And I really didn’t want to do my hair. So I didn’t.

Then I thought I should probably write up the review of the book I finished yesterday. But I didn’t feel like doing that either. So I didn’t.

Instead I figured I’d go ahead and jump into the new ARC that I want to read and review. But I was kind of sleepy. So I didn’t.

I took a nap. And I liked it.

I woke up kind of sweaty and smelly, totally disoriented and with my hair wrapped around my neck like a noose. It was a great nap. The kind where you have no idea where you are when you wake up. I needed that nap, and I don’t feel bad about taking it.

So what if it means I’ve got more goals for today?

Today I feel like making shit happen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Return of the Slash. Now With Artwork.


It's here. It's beautiful. It's deranged BBC, armed and ready for queries.

I have the awesome and talented Lynn Phillips Nelson to thank for the new and fantastic artwork she designed specifically for the Saturday Slash. Check out her (hilarious) site. If you think I'm funny, you'll jilt me for her.

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.

I also need to give a HUGE congratulations to one of my previous victims... uh, volunteers. Yvonne Osborne advanced in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Yvonne's query was picked from among 10,000 to advance to the next round. If you want to check it out she's in the top left hand corner of the link provided above, under the General Fiction category. Yvonne is a blogger, fellow AgentQuery Connect member, and also a featured author in the short story anthology "Spring Fevers", which I myself have a little shorty-short in. Spring Fevers is available as a free download from Smashwords, or a 0.99 download for your Kindle.

And on with the show!

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.

In an underwater village where those of dark skin don’t question their position in the Pures’ shadows, no one is more supportive for the Greys than seventeen-year-old Alphi McClure. Oh my, I had to untangle this one. And no one is more outspoken against them than her own Pure mother. OK - so if you're darker you're inferior. Alphi is a Grey who DOES question why this is the case, and her Pure mother is determined to grind her down with her heel. Got it. But I had to read it a couple times to do so. You need to simplify your hook a little bit in terms of language, because you've got a great main idea jump-in spot: under water (we know it's SF), ethnicity issues, character age (we know it's YA) and a family struggle. Awesome. You did a good job encapsulating your main conflict, but the language needs some re-phrasing. An agent might not have the patience to read back through and untangle the hook. 

When Alphi’s latest call for equality throws her entire strike entire for flow village in an uproar, Alphi flees to her uncles’ city in the desperate hope rephrase - desperate hope is a bit cliche for refuge. A big city means big ideas, this is great and Alphi's heart soars as she sees buildings swerve unclear on how a building can swerve. I get that it's underwater and so it might sway, but in essence I don't think you need that kind of detail here in a query and rise in the city --no age-old racism here. But when her uncles brutally torture a Grey, her screams fall on deaf ears as she rushes to save the man from being torn apart. Her uncle pushes her aside I would choose one of your phrases here: either her screams fall on deaf ears, or she's pushed aside. All you need to get across here is that they kill someone even though she tries to stop it, and you've done that twice which is a waste of space in a query. Personally, I'd kill the falls on deaf ears as it also has that cliche taste, and she can do nothing but watch --until the Grey rebels attack her own Pure family. Something not quite right for me in the previous sentence - I feel like we're supposed to be in the torture scene here, present tense: "pushes her aside" she "can do nothing," but then the follow up is "until the Grey rebels..." which makes it feel like the just bounded into the room and onto the torture scene, which I don't think is what you're trying to convey here. Technically, I can't say that it doesn't work, but I can say that personally it's not working for me. And when they do, she joins them. Good.

Her family's enemy becomes her true family, her true home. Oh - great line. But I want some rephrasing for clarity. I'd strike the family echo. This should be Alphi’s dream. But when war is declared, her rash decision to join the rebels comes back to haunt her. Both sides hunger for blood, and deciding which family to kill will leave Alphi torn apart. The war with the rebels is nothing compared to the war with herself, and both "Both" echo. Not a big deal, but it did stand out. You can rephrase easily. will only end in despair. This is a fantastic sinker. I like it a lot with the exception of what I marked. 

Overall thoughts - this is a decent query, and I'm drawn in by the concept. It's needs some cleaning for clarity, though. The hook just needs a little rephrasing, the "question" used so close to "position" feels echo-y, and the negation of the "don't" is fine, yet in such a long sentence I had to go back to re-read and see what exactly it was negating. Chop that sentence in half - toss out the underwater ethnicity issue, then address your MC's role. Then tack on your Alphi's mom line and I think you're in much cleaner shape.

Second paragraph caused me a little bit more confusion as I didn't understand that the uncles were Pure until it was stated later, or why Alphi would assume that there is no racism involved in the city until she saw someone tortured. Is there a mask of tolerance in the city? Is it supposed to "feel" nice but really it's no different than home? 

And lastly, here's my big question - is it weird that her mom is a Pure and Alphi is a Grey? Does that happen often? Does this make her special? I only ask b/c the hook at first made it seem like a matter of course that a Pure could have a Grey child, but then when I find out that her uncles are Pure too it definitely raises the question.

I know it seems like a big question to address in a small amount of space, but given the strength of the rest of the query, I really think you can do it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Book Talk: THE CROWN by Nancy Bilyeau

THE CROWN by Nancy Bilyeau lands the reader firmly in a world torn asunder by politics and Tudor machinations in the year 1537.

Joanna Stafford is from a young aristocratic family, but all she has ever wanted is to live a quiet life behind the walls of Dartford Priory. Her novice vows are challenged when she learns that her closest friend and cousin, Margaret, is to be burned at the stake at the order of Henry VIII, for supporting the Catholic revolt against Cromwell's hard-handed tactics and the dismantling of religious houses across the country.

Joanna knows that Margaret will die along and in agony, so she breaks the rules of her house and leaves at night, hoping to give her cousin one glimpse of a friendly face before the flames take her. But she barely makes it to the execution in time, and is saved from the violence of city streets by a young man, Geoffrey, who tries to stop her from getting closer to Margaret.

The two are arrested and taken to the Tower for interfering, where Joanna is faced with a new threat to her conscience. The Bishop of Winchester charges her with spying for him inside the Dartford Abbey, while secretly searching for the location of a religious relic - the crown of Athelstan. Joanna wants no part of delivering a precious relic into the hands of the king who is destroying her faith, but when Winchester racks her own father in front of her eyes, she has no choice.

Joanna returns to Dartford in the company of two Dominican friars whose own house has been dismantled, and whose agenda's she questions. If she is a pawn of Winchester, who do they belong to? Fighting her conscience, her heart, and the powerful hand of Cromwell, Joanna searches for clues to the Athelstan crown in artwork, tapestries, libraries and the very architecture of her priory. What she discovers is a a relic so strong that great rulers have been struck dead within days of touching it.

She knows it is powerful. She knows greedy men desire it. And she knows she has to find it first.