Monday, April 30, 2012

Being A Bitch Is Just Bitchy

So, I ended up in Albuquerque a little longer than expected. Self-edit... I ended up in the ABQ airport a little longer than expected. Like, a whole day.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that crit partner extraordinaire, Rachel Lewis, came to my rescue. Not only did she pick me up to begin with, let me crash at her place, drove me to the airport in the morning... she then came back 8 hours later to take me BACK to her place. And Monday morning she will get up and take me to the airport yet again, and at an obscenely early hour.

So obviously my post title isn't directed at her.

Actually, it's not directed at anyone. The vast majority of my fellow passengers were well-behaved considering we were penned into the failed aircraft for an hour and a half, directed to get our luggage from the carousel, then informed at the baggage claim that our luggage had never come down, and had instead gone on to our final destinations, and that we had to go back through security in order to get to the ticketing gates to get re-routed (or not)... You get the idea.

 Sure, some people said four-letter words, some were crappy to the gate workers (as if they had broken the plane to spite us), some were even crappy to their own traveling companions. But most of us just sat down in an empty chair, cracked open our books, phones, Nooks, Kindles and iPads, and prepared to wait. Because we knew that bitching would just make us look stupid on top of being late.

So remember aspiring writers, getting bitchy and shaking your fists at the person/people that you believe may be responsible for what's going wrong today... try playing Sneezies for an hour before you say something you might regret.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Talk - Book Pregnant Friday!

I've mentioned before that I'm a member of an excellent group of debut writers. Book Pregnant is a cross genre group that covers everything from intense autobiography, heart-wrenching literary fiction, historical fiction and well... me. I've already talked about three of my fellow members in previous book talks, so backtrack a little if you're interested in historical fiction by checking out Nancy Bilyeau's THE CROWN, Sophie Perinot's THE SISTER QUEENS, and Anne Clinard-Barnhill's AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN.

Today I'm going to give you a quick rundown of three more Book Pregnant books, all three well worth your time!

THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE Amy Franklin-Willis does a fantastic job delivering the story of the Cooper family over a period of many years, following the main character - Ezekiel - through different parts of his life that illuminate each other without being in chronological order. His mother's rejection of his twin brother once it was clear Carter had suffered brain damage from a high fever as an infant, how much it pained Zeke to leave his brother and closest friend behind mentally as they matured, and socially as he went on to marry and have children.

The relationships between Zeke, his mother and sisters, his wife at all stages of their relationship, and his alienated teen daughters is harrowing in it's honesty, as the entire book is delivered in tight first-person.

THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY by Sere Prince Halverson I loved The Underside of Joy for so many reasons - do you ever truly know someone, no matter how much you love them? Can you find your only purpose through giving to others? How much can one woman bend before she breaks?

When childless Ella Beane ends up in northern California, both literally and figuratively lost, she has no idea that offering to help a single dad who has his hands full locking up his grocery store while dealing with an infant and a toddler will change the course of her life. His sudden death only a few short years later leaves her as a single parent of children not her own, yet they are her only anchor in her grief. When the long-absent biological mother shows up at the funeral, demanding to see her children and insisting she's tried to be a presence in their lives all along, Ella faces the real possibility of losing what she had finally gained - a family.

The complex relationships between the deceased husband and grieving wife who discovers he may not have been the perfect man she imagined, the glamorous ex who may not be the evil witch she was painted to be, and the children who are torn between everyone they have left, is quite amazing.

THE RULES OF INHERITANCE Claire Bidwell Smith has written a heartbreakingly honest and gritty memoir that takes a hard look at her own choices viewed through the lens of grief. Claire's tale of how she coped with the death of both her parents from cancer while she was only in her twenties is eloquently written, yet sparsely told with a deft touch. Highly recommended, amazing writing, an honest voice.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

More from the Mind of Mindy...

1) I tweeted earlier this week that I wish our bladders were exterior organs, and detachable. This way when we leave a room in a hurry, people understand. People would know better than to sneak up on you to scare you, and if you rejected an offer to get on a trampoline, no would have to ask you why.

2) The detachable part is self-explanatory. It'll be the new, "Grab me a beer." Hey, are you going to the bathroom? Can you take my bladder with you?

3) I'm on a plane (probably as you read this), and that situation has made me rethink the exterior bladder scenario.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Submission with Melissa Landers

It's time for another SHIT (Submission Hell – It’s True) Interview! Today's guest is fellow Lucky 13'er Melissa Landers, an unrepentant escapist who left teaching to write novels. No offense to her former students, but her new career is way more fun! Her YA debut, ALIENATED is set on Earth in the not-too-distant future, and follows the misadventures of valedictorian Cara Sweeny, who gets more than she bargains for when she agrees to host the nation’s first interplanetary exchange student, the alluring Aelyx from planet L’eihr. ALIENATED is slated to release in the fall of 2013 from Disney-Hyperion. In addition to YA, she publishes contemporary romance under the name Macy Beckett. Melissa would love to hear from you on Facebook and Twitter!

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

ML: Not much. I’d heard stories from author friends, but I was blissfully ignorant when it came to the details. I figured the less I knew, the less I’d stress.

BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?

ML: Oh, sure. What surprised me most were the reasons some editors gave for rejecting my manuscript. One editor said she loved my work, but my “tone” was too similar to an author on their list. I remember thinking, Seriously? If they reject people for that, it’s a wonder anyone gets published!

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

ML: Hell to the no! And I wouldn’t recommend it, either. If you trust your agent to submit to the right editors, why torture yourself? Everyone knows that researching editors leads to twitter-stalking, and you’ll drive yourself insane in the membrane by overanalyzing each tweet. Whether or not an editor acquires your manuscript is beyond your control, so put them out of your mind and get to work on your next book.

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

ML: This is tough to answer. Some editors dipped in immediately, and some took months to start reading.

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

ML: Do whatever it takes to keep writing. If you know rejections are going to set you back, ask your agent not to forward them. If you can’t stop checking your email every five minutes, install “Freedom” (Google it) on your computer, and lock yourself off the internet for an hour at a time. You’ll feel better if you can immerse yourself in another manuscript.

BBC: If you had any rejections, how did you deal with that emotionally?

ML: Oddly enough, the only rejection that hurt was the first. I actually sat at my computer and cried—no lie. After that, something shifted inside me, and I sort of wrote the project off as a loss and focused on my next book.

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

ML: Surreal. That’s the only way I can describe how it felt. When my agent called, I was sitting in the New Orleans airport with my husband, getting ready to return home from a research trip. I’d known for a week beforehand that I was going to acquisitions at Disney-Hyperion, and I swear on my life, that was the longest and most torturous week EV-ER. So when I heard they’d made an offer (and a very nice one, at that!) I squealed and bounced in my seat, drawing the attention of every passenger in concourse A. My husband hugged and congratulated me, and then I had just enough time to call my mom and one of my crit partners before boarding the plane. I was flying high in more ways than one.

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

ML: YES! The offer came in early November, and I wasn’t allowed to make the announcement until February. I had to keep that SPECTACULAR news inside for THREE MONTHS! Why so long? Because my publisher wanted to wait until we’d agreed on a new title before announcing the deal in Publisher’s Marketplace. And while I agreed that was a good strategy, I felt like exploding. But look—I survived. J

Cat on the Highway

I'm so pleased to tell you that I'm over on YA Highway today, doing a dual interview with my agent, Adriann Ranta. I'm talking about writing my query, and she's talking about reading it :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

It'll Be A Trip

It's going to be a fun week for me! I'm getting on a plane Thursday for New Mexico to meet my crit partner RC Lewis. One of our fellow AQC'ers teased us that once our ultra-long personal message over there had reached 250 pages we were required to meet in person.

And oddly enough, that's pretty accurate!

While I'm sure that *both* of us are looking forward to me invading her personal space for three days, it's also my first speaking date as an author. I'll be talking about myself (easy), my book (sure!), and writing (what now?) to kindergartners through seniors.

I've been practicing up by not swearing in public. Wish me luck! I'll report back to you (or maybe RC will) and let you know how it went.

Saturday, April 21, 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 yellow.

Sixteen-year-old Layla Cadwell is losing her mind. Again. OK, at first I admit that I was thinking to myself, ugh... lame. And then the "Again" happened, and you got me. Good hook.

As a child, she almost I would use "nearly" here, but that's a total word choice preference on my part drowned when she saw a blue lady's face in a river, launching watch out for "ing" verbiage that can feel passive. I'd do a slight rephrasing to change into "launches" hallucinations that would "will" to make it more immediate plague her life. But when her father dies in her arms, murdered by a soul-sucking shadow-witch, Layla lands a stint in the psych ward. I'd change up the order of your sentence here. The commas are breaking up the sentence and pulling me out of the action because my brain is piecing it together. The other thing is, I guess I want to know why a soul sucking shadow-witch would be after her Dad. Is there an overall family connection to the paranormal? Is her ability to see the "blue lady" linked to the murder? Is the blue lady the same person as the shadow-witch? Because there's no such thing as monsters, see. I like this line, very much. After too many kumbaya-inducing meds, the memory of her father's death becomes fuzzy. Her mother attempts to de-crazy Layla by heading to a distant town for the summer, this feels like a little bit of a jump - psycho ward to summer road trip with mom. Are you saying that the drugs have made Layla question the witch's existence? Has she "denounced" herself and pretended to be sane in order to get mom to let her out? Or is mom convinced that the road trip is what she needs to recover? The way you phrase "de-crazy" in this sentence makes me feel like Mom isn't a very sympathetic character, and if that's not the case you'll want to rephrase. where Layla falls for local hottie, James.

Except...James' past includes a slew of ex-girlfriends now sporting straitjackets in the loony bin. There's also the unsettling phenomenon of his eyes changing color, something only Layla can see. Definitely inhuman. Good until here, I'd strike the line right before this. As if that's not weird enough, Layla begins to see monstrous creatures prowling the woods nearby, and the blue water I'd strike "water" and keep Blue Lady, maybe capitalize it to assert it as an identity. lady reappears to beg for help retrieving her soul from the witch. Since the anti-psychotic pills clearly aren't helping, Layla turns to her visions to piece together the blue water lady's history. I see what you're saying here, but the meaning is a little lost. I *think* what you're getting at is that Layla has stopped fighting the visions and is now accepting them. What she finds leads her to the enchanted people hidden in the woods. And the age-old feud between her family and the shadow-witch, who's determined to wipe out their bloodline. Aha - OK so there *is* a connection between the family and the paranormal. That's great, but I think I still need more info as to why the heck the witch would want to kill dad a little earlier in the query. I'd draw the connection between her childhood paranormal experience a little more clearly in connection with her father's murder for continuity, which won't necessarily mean you have to move up the bloodline war information. James, who has never questioned Layla's sanity, may be the only person who can help her. Why? Because he's the only one who believes her? But while Layla's desperate for someone to believe in her, she knows she can't trust him. Why not? Because his eyes change color? What if he just has some kind of contact mail-order subscription and is really, really vain?

As the witch closes in, Layla must use her visions to survive the world HIDDEN beyond her own. A YA Urban Fantasy, HIDDEN is complete at 76,000 words.

I like the meat of what you have here, and even though the idea of madness and no one believing you when you're actually *right* has been done, there's always room for another twist. I think what you need most here is to capitalize on how Layla herself feels about her visions. You say in the second part of the query that she "turns to" them to help her, but we never had any real indication that she was fighting them. Make that inner struggle more clear, and it'll help parallel the external struggle of the bloodline war, which by the way is a cool concept.

But on that - Why? Is this a supernatural Hatfield & McCoys thing? And how close are they to the bloodline being wiped out? Is Layla the last of her kind? Or does she have 25 cousins who can swoop in to save the day anytime they get around to it? And what about Mom? Does she know about the supernatural aspects of her husband and daughter? Or is she in denial?

And why exactly does the eye-changing color thing matter? And even more importantly - why the heck are his ex-girlfriends insane? I think *that's* a fascinating idea, but you only mention it casually. Take these elements that make your story unique and flesh them out more.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Non-Fiction Fridays

Recently I read a book that was relevant to me as a writer, a reader, an educator and just a plan old person with a brain. THE SHALLOWS: WHAT THE INTERNET IS DOING TO OUR BRAINS by Nicholas Carr was a fascinating look at how our brain processes information when we read, and how much the different mediums of the story can effect that.

The book at its most basic boils down to the phrase "neurons that fire together, wire together." I saw this for myself in college when our psychology professor performed a very basic classroom experiment where a line of people held hands, and each squeezed the hand of the person standing next to them after feeling the squeeze from the person on their left. The exercise was timed, and repeated. The length of time it took for the last person to get their "squeeze" shortened considerably with each repetition, because the brains of the participants were re-organizing, and the firing neurons necessary to pass on the squeeze were binding together with each repetition, building chemical bridges to each other that strengthened with each use, and passed along the information more quickly.

This is how we learn. This is why practice makes perfect. This is why lifelong readers can process information faster than those who pick up the habit later in life. This is also why reading something off a screen creates a vastly different brain experience than reading the printed page. One that could lead to the loss of deep reading and immersion in the text.

Before you surround me with pitchforks and torches, be aware that the author of the book isn't anti-technology. He's not against e-readers or net-surfing. But the information regarding how our brain processes text on the internet is overwhelming.

When you look at something on the internet, you're also processing the pictures on the side, the flashing ads designed to distract you and gain your attention, even a super helpful hyper-text link designed to lead you to the discovery of more information is actually impeding your learning process. Your multi-tasking brain has to work to ignore those elements, while your quiet center designed to process and pass along the relevant information into your long-term memory is stymied by the efficient multi-tasking brain. Carr sites multiple studies where the participants were unable to recall salient facts from articles that contained hypertext links, simply because their brain was thinking, "Go back to that, go back to that, don't forget to go back to that," as opposed to losing themselves to the relevant information right in front of them.

I could go on, this book talk only encapsulates a small amount of the studies and the issues referenced by the book. But as a writer, I had to think about the new wave of interactive e-books that people have been talking about. Do I sacrifice an immersed reader, lost to my world and my characters, if I lead them to pieces of artwork, or snippets of song that I found inspiring while writing?

I'm not sure.

And while I do enjoy a nice e-read on the iPad every now and then, I have noticed that I consciously choose to download only the little beach reads to that helpful little device. Anything requiring full immersion and due process of thought I still require a good old pressed piece of dead tree.

So maybe my brain was onto something?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Not a lot going on in real life at the moment, so the thoughts have been coming on hard and strong. And odd.

1) We need a new way of answering the telephone. Even though we have caller ID, and most of our calls are from people already programmed into our phones, we still answer with, "Hello?" with that little uptick of a question on the end. What are we asking? We know who it is.

2) On the other hand, when you get a call from an unrecognized number we either A) Don't answer or B) say, "Hello?" with a slightly suspicious tone that implies the caller has no business calling.

3) The little pre-programmed sells at McDonald's drive thru (Welcome to McDonalds, would you like to try an apple pie today?") don't actually work, because the real person taking your order has either started blocking it out, or there's a dead space immediately following the programmed offer in which they can't hear the customer. Trust me. I ordered 20 apple pies the other day to see what happened. Nada apple pie. Got a chicken sandwich though!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rachele Alpine BOA Wow

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.

Even more special, today's guest is a fellow Ohioan - so it's a BOA-WoW! (We're Ohio Writers!) Rachele Alpine is a fellow Lucky 13'er, a high school English teacher by day (10th grader American Literature), and an MFA fiction student by night. Her contemporary YA, CANARY, will be coming from Medallion Press, Summer 2013. Here's a quick taste:

Kate Franklin’s family is a dysfunctional mess. Ever since her mom died, her dad has thrown himself into coaching basketball as a way to cope with his grief. Kate and her brother have been left alone to deal with the loss in silence.
Kate's life starts to change when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.
But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. She knows she should speak out, but her dad tries to silence her in order to protect the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

BBC: So you run an excellent blog over at Freckle Head. What made you decide to take the approach you do on your blog?

RA: I decided to make my blog an eclectic mix of things….the publishing process (I started the blog right when I signed with my first agent), reading reviews, pictures, every day life, and any other randomness I come across that grabs my interest. 

The reason I did this is because of my audience. I know a lot of bloggers have a targeted audience, but I don’t. I have found that all different types of people visit my blog. I have other authors who read it, book lovers, friends/family/old classmates, reviewers, bloggers, those interested in writing, co-workers and my students. 

I wanted to mix it up and put a little bit of everything for everyone up there, and that’s what you often get if you follow my blog. It makes it fun, because I never run out of ideas of what to write about.

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 are a high school teacher by day, and an MFA student yourself. How do you make a balance?

RA: I think you have to look at blogging as something you do, because you enjoy doing it. If you start looking at it as something you feel you have to do, it because hard and tedious. I look forward to sharing my feelings, pictures, ideas and opinions with my readers. I also love getting comments and feedback from them, and that makes it easy for me to find time to blog. If you build up a good relationship with your readers, it’s kind of like writing e-mails. You look forward to corresponding and sharing with them.

I don’t have a set schedule (the first I was blogging five days a week….which was NUTS!). This allows me to think of ideas and post things at random. I try to post two or three times a week, which is pretty manageable. Your posts also don’t have to be long. I like to read blogs too, and I really enjoy shorter posts because it allows me to visit more blogs. 

BBC: You’ve been blogging for three years. Did your approach change once you were published?

I don’t know if it’s changed that much, but I do know that I don’t blog as often.  It is hard to find the time. 

I do try to be very honest with my publishing journey, because I think that’s what helps your readers build trust in you. The process isn’t always easy, and I share that. The process can be a lot of fun, and I tell them about little things that I find interesting. The process can be slow, and I share my frustrations.  I don’t try to act like once I got a publishing contract, it all got easy. I try to be myself and share my successes and also those times when things don’t go the way I wish they would.

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

I’ve read blogs that have led me to some amazing books, so I think in that sense, yes. It’s one of the main ways I find books. I hope readers of my blog will do the same. Of course I want them to go out and buy my book. A blog is a great way to market yourself and your book. It allows readers to get to know an author on a more personal level, and it’s another way they can connect to the book.

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

RA: I’m a huge fan (err…stalker) of John Green’s YouTube station, YA Highway, Nathan Bransford's blog, and Absolute Write.

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

RA: I write contemporary YA. It’s really all I’ve read my whole life. I was never into other genres like fantasy, science-fiction or mysteries. I liked reading about realistic things. I was led to it at a young age, but I think I continue to read/write it because of my job. I teach high school Language Arts, so I’m surrounded by teenagers every single day. I can never get away from that world, so why not write about it!

I guess you could say it influences my blog, because I write about life and comment on many issues that teenagers might experience.

BBC: Any words of inspiration for aspiring writers?

Yes!  I have three main pieces of advice….

1)  Love what you’re writing…you need to be passionate about your writing or you’ll never be able to maintain the motivation to write.

2)  If you do love writing, never give up. Writing can be tough, but you need to keep pushing yourself day after day.

3)  Coffee, gummy candy and a puppy at your feet can work wonders when you’re writing

Monday, April 16, 2012

Been There, Done That

Forgive me, my friends. Today you get a re-post of last week's Lucky 13's post from me. Having no internet at home is really screwing with my productivity. On the other hand, I'm reading a ton :)


It took me a long time to admit that I'm really not that creative.

And guess what? Neither are you.

I read. A lot. It's kind of my job. A necessary by-blow of this has been that I've realized the old adage that all the stories have been told is... true. I can't tell you how many times I've opened up boxes of books (Yay!) only to glance at the back-cover material and realize it's been done before. A running mental commentary might run something like this (this isn't referencing any actual books, FYI, so don't go racking your brains trying to figure out what I'm referring to):

Okay, so this one is Hunger Games but set in Bulgaria and using cats.
Oh look! Turner & Hooch but with a dinosaur.
Hey! Romeo & Juliet but with a crustacean and a pearl hunter.

You get the idea. But here's the thing... the Romeo & Juliet title featuring the really attractive crustacean might have the zippiest dialogue this side of the Pacific, and it just might bring me to tears a lot faster than angsty Italian pre-teens with excellent wardrobes quaffing poison.

We've all been in love, we've all suffered loss. We all continue to learn from others and seeing the world through a pair of eyes that we weren't born with will always be a useful experience, even if the plot isn't the brightest star that ever rolled itself up into a gas ball.

Every time Mindy-Brain says, "Hey! I've got an idea!" I have to ask Mindy-Brain how it's been done before (not IF!), and how I can do it differently, give it the Mindy-Spin and make it Mindy's-Story instead of, Bogus! It's Jurassic Park with manic Dodo birds!

Always remember that your job as a writer isn't necessarily to come up with something that has never, ever been done, but to find a way to tell it again - your way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Talk - DEAD TO YOU by Lisa McMann

Ethan DeWilde knows that he had a family once. He had a life before shelters and digging in dumpsters, before Eleanor’s johns and the beatings that came with them. It’s a miracle that he recovers that life, but he’ll need another one in order to fit back in to the family that comes with it.

He doesn’t remember his parents, and his little brother Blake, now a teenager, blames Ethan for the fractures in the family. Blake was the only witness to his abduction, and even the details that he’s able to provide aren’t sparking memories for Ethan. He believes his brain has erased the first few years of his life so that he could live in Eleanor’s fictional world, where she was his mother and he was her son.

Little Gracie, the child born to replace him, is the one he’s able to connect with. Her innocence and immediate acceptance of him as her brother is the only thing tethering him to the home he can’t remember, overriding the primitive urge to run that life on the streets has taught him.

Then he meets Cami, his neighbor and one-time best friend that he cannot recall either, though he’d love to try. Especially when she tells him they used to take baths together. Cami’s sweetness and their immediate attraction encourages him to build more relationships, try to scale the walls that his brother has built, and finally have a place to call home.

Even Cami can’t overcome the blankness, or the hysterical laughter that descends on Ethan whenever he tries to remember his abduction, his childhood, anything from his life before he became Eleanor’s.

Because some things are too unspeakable to remember.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Seriously? You guys like this stuff?

Well, apparently at least some of you do, because the poll said YES! Tell us more about your randomly firing synapses! Fine then. I will. Remember - you asked me to.

And before you bother reading my non-scripted stuff, check out an interview with me on Caterina Torres' blog where I actually sound intelligent.

Thoughts Lately:

1) What's the deal with tampons? What sick person came up with this? A pad... ok that makes some kind of sense. But who was the first person to say, "Hey! I know!"

2) I feel very sorry for the woman who provides the instructor's voice on the Wii Fit. If I ever ran into her in public I would probably punch her in the throat on general principal.

3) I had a theory in college that if someone is eating easily dispensable food (like M&M's) and you walked up to them looking pathetic with your mouth hanging open, they would feed you. It actually works most of the time. However - it does NOT work with someone else's mobile hotspot.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Submission with Liz Coley

Before you jump into the SHIT (ha ha) check me out over on The Lucky 13's today, talking about how not-awesome I am.

Today's guest for the SHIT (Submission Hell – It’s True) is fellow Lucky 13'er Liz Coley. To make things even cooler, Liz is an Ohioan AND an imprint sister. So really it's like we're the same person. Since she's from Ohio, technically this is a SHIT - Wow! (We're Ohio Writers). Yeah, you like that little acronym, don't you?

Liz has been writing seriously for more than ten years, and is finally feeling the luck! Her novel Pretty Girl-13 is scheduled for release in early 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books of HarperCollins.

When thirteen-year-old Angela Gracie Chapman looks in the mirror, someone else looks back--a thin, pale stranger, a sixteen-year-old with haunted eyes. Angie has no memory of the past three years, years in which she was lost to the authorities, lost to her family and friends, lost even to herself. Where has she been, who has been living her life, and what is she hiding behind the terrible blankness? There are secrets you can't even tell yourself.

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

LC: I had learned a lot about submitting short stories--format and etiquette--before I moved on to novels. Since I had attended a writing conference prior to subbing my first novel in 2005, I knew the formalities. However, when I look back at my early query letters I truly cringe. I’ve learned a lot about improving my pitch in the intervening years.

BBC: Did anything about the process surprise you?

LC: The snail’s pace of responses surprised me in the early days. Two of my submissions did not receive replies for a full year, and one of them was a publisher who insists on exclusive submission of a full manuscript. That practice just eats your life away. Two years later, the speed of responses surprised me when we were starting to see queries allowed via internet. Going by the timestamp on the e mails, one of my queries to an agent in California was rejected BEFORE I sent it from Ohio. Explain that one, Einstein!

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

LC: After my first two manuscripts had been roundly rejected by editors and all the major houses had closed to unagented manuscripts for children’s literature, I dedicated myself to finding an agent for my third manuscript. I put myself entirely in her hands for submissions. The only editors I researched were those guest editors at my annual writing conference, and I do recommend that since they will invite submissions at the end of the conference.

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

LC: The only way to deal with the anxiety is to get on with the next writing project and forget the current one exists.

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

LC: Well, the one that broke my heart was a husband-wife agency team who disagreed about whether to represent my first book. But the next manuscript I wrote received a hand-addressed, personal rejection letter from an editor who praised the story, found no faults, but couldn’t use it. I taped that one on the wall for a year as an encouraging “good rejection.” In a way, it is easier to get a manuscript rejection than a query rejection because the reader has the opportunity to see your real work. With a query rejection, you can drive yourself nuts second guessing the way you presented your credentials or your pitch.

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

LC: I got my yes for representation on the phone a week after I’d sent my full manuscript (#3), and I felt like crying and drinking champagne. Such a huge wall had been knocked down and, for the moment, I thought I’d found the end of the rainbow. Actually, I’d found the leprechaun who still had to lead me to the end of the rainbow. It took another four and a half year to sell a manuscript (#7)--the big YES. And that was another cry in your champagne moment.

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

LC: I did have to wait for the contract to be negotiated and the offer announced in PM. The hardest thing was keeping my husband quiet about it. I was so terrified of screwing things up, I didn’t breathe a word, even to my sons at college, until the deal was done. And then we all jumped up and down about it. The funny thing is, a friend of mine saw it in PM before my agency notified me that it was officially out, so lots of people knew before my own kids.

Monday, April 9, 2012

When The Internet's Away the Cat Will...

Not do a whole hell of a lot, it turns out.

Yes, it's sad but true. All last week I did not have internet at the homestead. It's not because I'm going organic either, it's because I have country internet. Hopefully everyone can bear with me while I address these issues. I'm caught up on my commenting from last week (thanks to everyone for dropping by while the blog took care of itself!) and today we're playing catchup with my other appearances via some link-love, and also just a little house cleaning. (Hey, it IS spring.)

First off - thanks to everyone who voted in my poll! It turns out you guys want to see interviews from authors (no problem), more vlogs (gluttons), and for some reason people actually care what I'm thinking, so the Thursday Thoughts shall recommence (remember, you asked for it). While you may not absolutely adore my book-talks, it's not in my nature to not share what I'm reading. But instead of featuring one book at a time, I'll probably do some overviews of what's out, what's new, what's cool, and what's making me happy this week.

My Linkety Links:  Last month I spoke at the regional SCBWI meeting. If you want a great overview of everything I said, and exactly how damn charming I am (oh, yes - really), check out this excellent write-up from K.S. Powers. I didn't even know she was taking notes, I would've talked slower. Maybe.

Suzi Retzlaff features dribbles of wisdom from me (wisdom content has not been evaluated by MENSA), and people smarter than me on her continuing Big Reveal series.

Today I'm being featured over on the excellent Ellen Oh's blog talking about what diversity means to me as a YA librarian. And it means a lot. You'd be surprised how much.

Lastly and by far the most important: my YA debut group Friday the Thirteeners are donating Crits for Water! If you want us to whip you into shape while you help save the world, this is the place to do it. Our particular donation opens for bidding / donations on June 28th. I'll post a reminder when the date is closer.

Thanks everyone for hanging in while I was incommunicado last week. Even though the blog seems to have coasted without me fairly well, I still missed it and will stare it at lovingly most of the day today.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Talk: ASHES by Ilsa J. Bick

Ilsa J. Bick went and blew my mind again.

And all of her characters' minds too.

ASHES is the story of Alex, an orphaned teen who has her own date with death as the tumor in her brain continues to grow. A last ditch medical approach has Alex seeking solitude and a place to spread her parent's ashes in the woods of Waucamaw, Michigan. When an electro-magnetic pulse kills most of the world's population she finds herself caring for Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather dropped dead while they were camping.

And it seems her tumor is gone.

Alex strength has returned, her health is as good as it's ever been. Maybe even better. She can smell feelings emanating from people in waves; fear mostly, but sometimes the faint glimmer of hope. And more importantly, she can smell the Changed.

The particular brain chemistry of teens allowed them to live through the EMP, but they are shadows of people. Aggressive and hungry for human flesh, teens are feared and shot on sight. Ironically, Alex's tumor saved her from that fate. Tom, a young veteran of the Iraq war was likewise spared because of PTSD. Together, they protect Ellie and head north, hoping to find shelter in an area with low population - of both the Changed and the living, who would kill them because of the pervasive fear of the young.

But not all of the aged living want teens dead. Some realize that the future of the human race lies with them, and healthy teens - especially girls - are as valuable as gold.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An SAT with Debut YA Author Emma Pass

My guest today for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is fellow Lucky13'er Emma Pass. Emma lives in the north-east Midlands in the UK with her husband and a retired racing greyhound, and has a day job in the local library, where she also runs a writing group. Her debut YA dystopian, ACID, will be available from Random House in 2013. It takes place in the year 2113. When Jenna Strong was 13, she was jailed for murder by ACID - the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence. Now, four years later, she’s been broken out by a mysterious organisation who won’t tell her who they are or why they got her out. Set up with a new identity, Jenna is just getting used to being on the outside when she runs into Max, the son of the man who died getting her out of jail. Soon, ACID are on their trail and they’re forced to go on the run. Now Jenna must keep herself and Max safe – and somehow prevent Max from finding out who she really is…


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

EP: A bit of both! I like to have a rough outline before I start, and an idea of the start, middle and end, but if I plan a book too rigidly I get bored with it before I’ve even started writing it. And things always end up changing. The story I end up with is usually nothing like the one I started out with in my head.

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

EP: It varies, but on average it’s around 6 months for a first draft. Subsequent drafts tend to be quicker - about 3-4 months.

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

EP: One project at a time. I get so into my story and characters that I don’t have room in my head for any more! However I usually have the next project brewing away at the back of my mind, and if any revelations come to me about it I’ll make notes.

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

EP: Not really. I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was 13, and just remember feeling incredibly excited about the whole thing, because it was then that I realised this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It always feels daunting to start something new, but I welcome that fear, because it makes me strive to write as well as I possibly can.

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

EP: Two - both contemporary YA novels. I queried the first one, but didn’t bother with the second as I knew it wasn’t good enough.

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

EP: Yes. It was the MS in between the book that got me an agent and ACID. I wrote about 5 drafts before I gave up on it, but I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t working almost from the start. It just never seemed to come alive – I couldn’t click with the main character and I knew readers wouldn’t either. To be honest, when my agent read it and agreed I should start something new, it was a HUGE relief.

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

EP: My agent is the wonderful Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books, who I found in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I chose her because she represents one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding, and because YA is one of her specialities. When I sent her my query (for another contemporary YA), I was preparing for my wedding. A few weeks before I was due to get married, she wrote to me saying she liked the chapters I’d sent, and asking me to send the next 10,000 words. In a daze of excitement, I shoved them in the mail. Then I went off to get married. When we got back from our honeymoon, I got another letter from her saying it sounded good so far, so please could I send the rest. You can imagine how excited I got then!

Not long after that, my husband and I were driving to the supermarket when my phone rang. It was Carolyn, wanting to talk about my MS and some ideas she’d had for revisions. Cue frantic scrabbling around in the glove box for a pen and a scrap of paper, while my husband (who was driving) looked for somewhere to pull over. After those initial revisions (which I was more than happy to do), the novel went through another two rounds of revisions, and then she started sending it out. I didn’t dare call her ‘my’ agent for ages, though!

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

EP: Carolyn was the third agent I queried (with my third novel… so I guess there’s some truth in the saying, “third time lucky”!).

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

EP: Keep going. Keep writing. If you don’t get taken on with this book, you might get taken on with the next one… but if you don’t write it, you’ll never know.

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

EP: ACID’s not out till next year, but it’s highly likely I’ll burst into tears in the middle of the bookstore. Or jump up and down. Or scream. Or all three.

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

EP: I have no idea! My publisher does wonderful covers, though, so I’m totally confident that ACID’s cover will be wonderful too.

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

WP: How long everything takes - you definitely need to be patient in this business! And I am in awe of my editor’s insight into my book and her ideas to make it better. I always thought you had to write a book that was good enough to be published. Now I know you have to write a book that’s good enough to make an editor want to work with you… and then between you, you write the book that’s good enough to be published. 

Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: Do you have a blog / webisite?

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

EP: I didn’t do any social networking before I got my book deal – and that was four years after getting my agent! It was my publisher who gently suggested I should start tweeting and blogging, and I have to admit, my heart sank at the thought. But it’s brilliant - I really love it! I don’t think it was a problem that I didn’t do any of these things before, though. You have to feel comfortable doing these things, and take them at your own pace.

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

EP: Yes, absolutely. I’ve connected with so many readers, book bloggers and other authors online, and I’ve read tons of books because I’ve heard about them or talked to their authors through social media.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Feminism and Insults

Writing and reading YA, plus spending the 40/wk with teens means that I usually know what insults are being bandied about at the moment. Some of them are funny, some of them are horrific, and the tried-and-true are still holding strong.

Something that I've noticed about the old standbys of Insultland is that the ones generally reserved for males are actually directed at their mother, not at the fella himself.

Somewhat-Tamed-Down-Examples:

1) SOB - Well, duh
2) Bastard - implies that mom is loose
3) MF'er - it takes two to tango

And my personal fav, not necessarily related to mothers:

4) D-bag - what you're really saying is, "Hey! You're a really useful tool for personal hygiene."

But yeah... still female oriented.

So, to counteract this I've come up with a whole slew of male oriented insults that are quite fun. I won't be sharing them on the blog though. If you really want to know you'll just have to read my books to dig out those little gems of wisdom.

I will add though, that I don't think those time-tested insults will be going anywhere soon, and my own creative and amusing insults will probably only be flashes in the proverbial pan. So, instead of trying to force my new slang into the mainstream I'm going to embrace the negativity of feminine wordage and start calling everyone I don't like a "menstruater."