Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Having watched Skyfall last weekend I have to say that just once I'd love to see James Bond jump into a boat / car / motorcycle that he doesn't instinctively know how to operate. While I really enjoyed watching Daniel Craig wearing a very nice suit and operating a backhoe, my farmer-girl suspension of disbelief hit a serious bump. Those things are NOT easy to operate.

2) I also watched quite a bit of professional boxing this weekend. Instead of all the posturing and grunting, I think it'd be totally awesome to see a boxer who apologized to their opponent every time they got a good hit in.

3) I have an issue with cereal milk. When I get to the bottom of my bowl and still have milk left, it tastes fresh and cold. But when I go ahead and put more cereal in there it tastes lukewarm. This makes no sense to me. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

An Interview with Elsie Chapman, Author of DUALED

Today I've got an extra special person on the blog with me, Elsie Chapman, author of DUALED. Elsie is a fellow Friday the Thirteener, and we have a heck of a lot of inappropriate fun together. I got my hands on an ARC of DUALED and I wanted to have an extra special interview with her tailored to help get the awesomeness that is this debut title out into the world. DUALED releases TODAY from Random House Books for Young Readers.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

MM: DUALED’s world is a militant place where the survival of the fittest has been taken to new heights. Where did you get the idea?

EC: My son got the wheels turning, actually. He asked me one day, How did we know for sure we didn’t all have someone out there just like us, and we just didn’t know about them? It was a really interesting question because the implications would be incredible. Imagine someone out there walking around with your face, your body, living a whole other life. So then I started thinking about parallel worlds, and which world would get to be the real one and why, and it took off from there.

MM: West Grayer isn’t a conventional character. She’s got big issues in a world where everyone is faced with dealing death to their alter ego. Was it hard to write a character that isn’t going to be easy to swallow for some readers?

EC: I hope it doesn’t make me a horrible person if I say no, because it came really easily. Mostly because I had to get into West’s headspace, and from her point of view, you can’t be anything but ruthless. I also wanted her actions to be truly hers, right or wrong. Whatever she does is not because of forced circumstances but truly her own decisions. That we get to see how it all weighs on her makes her more relatable, too, I think.

MM: In DUALED, every teen has a window of time once they are “activated” to take down their Alt. Violence is dealt in the streets and bystanders know to make themselves scarce in the face of it. Not only is there a sense of kill-or-be-killed, but also every-person-for-themselves type mentality. Yet West forms strong relationships with her brothers and sisters, as well as Chord, her brother’s best friend. How can relationships like that persevere in an environment where anyone can be taken from you, any moment?

EC: I think for Alts to know such love and experience a loving childhood only emphasizes what a completion is worth. It makes Alts want to do their best and to be the ones who end up surviving. Not only to return to such relationships—for someone like West who’s lost nearly everyone, this wouldn’t be possible—but for the chance to create more once they’ve completed. It’s a pretty hardcore society, and it’s human nature to try to justify a system that asks them to live the way they do.

MM: Along with other children, West spent her early years training to kill someone who looks exactly like her. What kind of impact has this had on her?

EC: In the beginning of the book, West comes across as pretty confident. She needs to believe she’ll win, otherwise she’s already at a disadvantage. But she’s also a realist, like most idles are before going active. She doesn’t actually allow herself to dream, or even think about the future that much, knowing that until she’s complete, there’s no point. It’s when she experiences a huge loss that her confidence gets shaken, and all of a sudden she starts questioning her own capabilities. I really liked seeing how she changed throughout the course of the novel.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blogs - What Are They Good For?

And I apologize to everyone who now has Edwin Starr stuck in their heads. I also apologize to Edwin Starr for yet another horrific Edwin Starr ripoff.

But to answer the question - what are blogs good for? Hell, I don't know.

Not only do I post six days a week here at Writer, Writer, but I also contribute to six group blogs. Yes six- Book Pregnant, From the Write Angle, Friday the Thirteeners, The Lucky 13s, Class of 2k13 and The League of Extraordinary Writers. Last fall I had the experience of having an aspiring writer who doesn't blog say to me, "You're using all your time for blogging and not actually writing."

Which is kind of funny, really, since she has absolutely no idea how much time I spend (or don't spend) writing. 

I blog because I like to. I think that's the step that a lot of people are missing. I read a lot about blog burnout (it happens) as well as the burning question of whether blogs are a form of social media that actually help to sell our books.

But here's the thing - even if you could tell me for a fact that this blog sold ZERO copies of NOT A DROP TO DRINK, I'd probably keep doing it anyway. There are more than enough words rattling around inside my skull to fill up monthly posts on group blogs, daily posts here, plus a couple of short stories and at least one novel a year. 

People ask me fairly often what my secret is. How do I find the time to do all this blogging?

I don't find the time - I make it. I make it the way anyone with hobbies makes the time to read, scrapbook, knit, or play the piano. My secret is that I actually like to do this.

But I won't mind if you buy my book, either. :)

If you're thinking about jumping into the blogging world, or would like to revitalize your blog and / or your love for it, check out some of these articles below.

Do Authors Need A Blog? - Irene Watson
Do Author Blogs Sell Books? - Nathan Bransford

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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, 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!

When twelve year old Maia Quinn arrives at her aunt’s mansion in a remote village of Grunewald, she is none too excited. With her parents away overseas, she has resigned herself to a long and dull summer, or so she thinks. You need a better hook here. Your first sentence is weighed down in detail, and I don't have any sense of originality here. So an MG MC reluctantly goes somewhere boring for her summer vacation, but finds out there's more in store? Been there, done that - why is yours different?

The night she attends the Start of the Summer Party, a mysterious flying trapeze artist brands her with a glowing silver star and then disappears without a trace. Ah - now this seems interesting. Trapeze artists and a brand? Get this in the hook. Soon after, the wall drawings at the mansion start to come alive, warning her that Grunewald is in grave danger. This is better, there are definitely unique qualities here but I have no idea how they come together. What is a Start of the Summer Party? Is this a village thing? A circus, I assume, since there is a trapeze artist. What do you mean by "brands her?" Does she have a tattoo now? And what does this have to do with the drawings?

Now Maia is determined to learn the truth truth about what? and even having a giant green hound for a stalker won’t frighten her away. She discovers that one of her ancestors was an immortal from the Faie realm, and because of this she was born a Wanderer, someone who can travel between two worlds. The immortals reveal to Maia that their race is in peril from the warring Nature Spirits, who were forced into a struggle by the thoughtless actions of a human. As a Wanderer, it is within Maia’s power to stop their conflict and bring both their worlds from the brink of destruction. That is, if she can survive the mission. Better - there's more detail here so we can understand the plot here, but you need to tie all these ideas into what has come before. What about those moving portraits? Why exactly is Grunewald in danger?

You need to make your plot more clear and tie these elements together in order for this to pop. It's difficult because as the author you already know the answers, and so instinctively draw the lines in between elements that seem unrelated to a fresh eye. Get those lines drawn clearly and you'll be in a lot better shape.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Talk - PIVOT POINT by Kasie West

Even in a school of Paranormals, Addy is special.

Most of the mind-readers and telekinetics call Addy a clairvoyant, even though her gift is more complicated. Addy can see the future, true - but she can see more than one. Whenever Addy is faced with a choice - from what color shirt she wears in the morning to whether or not she studies for a math test - she can perform a Search, experience both lives simultaneously, and know the outcome either way. With this gift, most of the decisions in her life have been easily made - until now.

Her parents are divorcing. Mother, a strong woman but a driving taskmaster, is choosing to stay inside the well-hidden Compound of Paranormals. Her dad, with whom she as a stronger bond, wants to live in the normal world. Addy has to choose which parent she's going to live with, a choice that will drastically re-route her entire life.

With her best Para friend by her side, Addy does a Search, living both choices out to their end. She has no way of knowing that they will converge, one ending in a death, while the other requires her to forget a new relationship that has sparked trust, and encouraged the bloom of first love even in the devastating aftermath of her parent's divorce.

A choice is inevitable and Addy has to make it - which parent will she choose? And who will she sacrifice?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I'm rather in awe of the human body. It does awesome things all on it's own without us telling it to, and most of those things are really helpful - like breathing, blinking, and also the fact that our hearts beat. But when I wake up covered in my own drool I have to think this particular function serves no real purpose.

2) On the same note, when I can't sleep because my brain is refusing to turn off (Hey MINDY - I have a great idea for a new blog series!!! MIIIIINNNDDDYYY!!!! Oh guess what! Here's something I thought of the other day for a new short story - pretty great, right? You should write that down NOW b/c you'll forget in the morning.) I have to wonder what all that looks like inside my head. If only I could sleep in an MRI machine.

3) I don't have free time, so I'm really picky about what movies I watch. I typically want something with real depth to it, but I'm no stranger to a brainless action flick either. But, I have to wonder while I watch all these highly choreographed super-slick fight scenes, why no one ever punches anyone else in the ass? When you hurt your ass it REALLY, REALLY hurts. Strategically, I can see this being a smart move in a fistfight.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An SAT with Nicole McInnes, Author of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is fellow Class of 2k13 member Nicole McInnes. Nicole is the author of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK. Nicole was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature (Creative Writing emphasis) from the University of California at Santa Cruz (go, Banana Slugs!). She also received a Master’s Degree in English (Creative Writing emphasis) from Northern Arizona University (go, Lumberjacks!).

BRIANNA ON THE BRINK is about a one-night stand that has life-altering consequences for popular, sixteen-year-old Brianna, who must then accept help from the one person closest to her mistake. Available now from Holiday House.

Writing Process:
Are you a Planner or Pantster?

NM: Actually, I think I’m a little of both. I like to keep careful notes on book ideas, but then once one of them “takes” I do like to let things percolate a bit and/or take me by surprise during the initial drafting. 

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

NM: I’d say it typically takes about 8 months to get a fairly solid draft hammered out, especially if I can keep myself in a more-or-less productive work mode while writing the thing.

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

NM: My main focus is always on one book at a time. That said, it seems inevitable that ideas for other stories, characters and titles come to me while writing. I try to always write these down for later use.

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

NM: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I started doing it because I first loved reading. I think starting from that place of excitement and feeling like there were no imposed rules or boundaries really kept me from being fearful back then. As an adult, of course, I often find myself at some point on the fear spectrum when sitting down to write. 

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

NM: One

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

NM: There was one manuscript I wrote after I had an agent that just never amounted to anything. While I still like parts of it, it was written during a time of huge upheaval in my personal life, and I think the writing was disordered as a result. I may go back and scavenge from it someday, though. You never know. Abandoned manuscripts are sometimes useful for parts if nothing else.

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

NM: My agent is the extraordinary Stacey Glick at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. After my initial query letter, she contacted me requesting a partial and then, I *think*, a full. By the time she offered representation, I had another agent interested as well. As soon as Stacey and I talked on the phone, though, I knew I’d be a fool to not go with her. Thankfully, I listened to my gut, because she’s been wonderful not just in getting my work in front of editors but in helping me develop projects as well. 

How many queries did you send before getting an agent?  

NM: While I don’t have an exact count, I’m pretty sure I still have a box somewhere up in my closet with a few dozen rejection slips inside. 

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

NM: Sending out queries and receiving rejection after rejection can be such a brutal, disheartening process. I don’t know any successful way out of it other than through, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly you forget all those rejections when you get that first “Yes.” That said, this time before landing an agent is important. It matters. It’s teaching you things that will carry you through your writing career – things like persistence and how you’re going to choose to handle disappointment (both of which will be totally necessary skills after you sell a book, by the way).

Of course, professionalism and attention to detail are mandatory. You MUST adhere to the cardinal rules of querying, including knowing the names and preferences of agents who interest you. Do they represent the kind of book you’ve written? Are they taking new submissions? Do they have a list of pet peeves? It’s the Internet Age, so there’s no excuse for not doing as much research as possible to avoid wasting your time and theirs. Also, publishing is a remarkably small world. Don’t be “that guy” or “that gal” with a reputation for being unprofessional. People will notice, and they may well remember. It’s hard to be gracious when gnashing ones teeth in frustration over the latest “not quite right for us” note. Be gracious anyway. Don’t burn bridges.

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

NM: Technically, the first time was when I saw the pre-order pages for BRIANNA ON THE BRINK on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, etc. It was amazing as one might suspect. A little surreal, too. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

NM: Well, my editor (the amazing Sylvie Frank) called to ask me what sort of vision I had for the cover. Basically, I didn’t want any ball gowns (they wouldn’t have fit the story anyway), and I didn’t want a too-skinny, Photoshopped fembot-type model. Girls are already so bombarded with images of this sort of false “perfection”, and it was important to me that Brianna look like an actual human female. I was thrilled with the naturally beautiful model who was chosen, and I couldn’t imagine a better Brianna.

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

NM: I was really surprised by how much I learned about story development and editing and the business of writing in between signing the contract and receiving my first copy of the finished book. I think I assumed that once an author sold a book, that was it. He or she was a master. Now I realize just how much I still have to learn to get my writing to where I want it to be. It’s truly a lifelong endeavor.

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

NM: I try to think of marketing as play more than anything, as a chance to connect with people and support other artists more than just as a place to hawk my wares. I’m on Twitter, tumblr and Facebook quite a bit, so I guess in that sense I maintain an online presence. Meanwhile, the heavy lifting is done by my wonderful publicist. I also have a writer's site.

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

NM: When I first signed up for this writing-for-publication gig, mastodons still roamed the planet and there was no such thing as an online platform. There were literary journals and graduate theses, so that’s where I put some effort. Nowadays, it seems important to be findable online at all stages of the game – when searching for an agent, when having a book out on submission to editors and when waiting for your book to land in the hands of readers. At the very least, people are going to want to get a sense of who you are and how you might be to work with.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

NM: Oh, absolutely. What I love most about social media is the ability to share thoughts and laughs with people I’d otherwise never get to meet. And again, readers can get a sense of the writer behind the book this way. It’s not important to every reader, of course, and I suppose there are plenty out there who prefer to not know about authors, but I think a certain amount of curiosity is natural. Also, it goes both ways. It can be fun for authors to get a sense of their readership, to find out what types of people are into their books as well.

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Cover & ARC Arrival!

In case you haven't seen it....

Yes, it's true. It really is quite beautiful. I'm not biased.  And wouldn't you know it on the same day that the cover released, my ARC's came. Here they be:

So that's what the spine looks like. And I'd really hate for you to spend a lot of time worrying about the back cover, so I went ahead and took a picture of that for you too:

I bet your wondering how in the world you can get your hands on your own ARC of NOT A DROP TO DRINK, right? Well, it's possible. The lovely ladies over at YABC hosted my cover reveal, along with a signed ARC giveaway. Yes - you can have one of the books in this picture, complete with my signature, and also rest assured that I probably rubbed my face on it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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, 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!

Breaking into a high security space station and getting out with anything but cuffs on your wrists is impossible for most 26th century thieves, but Jez Starwisp isn’t your average criminal. Nice hook. I'd consider starting a new sentence at "but," even though I'm sure somewhere along the way somebody probably told you that's a no-no. It'll reduce the run-on feel, and honestly, I think starting with "But" is perfectly fine. Raised on a backwards colony where the most advanced tech was a butter churn, she knows her way around lock picks and other archaic tools that top of the line security isn’t designed to handle. Along with her annoying android partner, Jez sets out to make a name for herself as the greatest thief in the Stymphalian solar system. Very, very good. Lots of voice here. You totally have my attention.

Her next target: Stymphalian Station Beta and a priceless statue belonging missing "to?" an important delegate. Everything goes according to plan, until the delegate echo here with "delegate," how about "owner" instead? enters the vault as she’s robbing it. Before he can raise an alarm, a security guard walks in and shoots the delegate another echo, how about just a pronoun here?, leaving Jez alive and well to take the blame. With a murder charge on her head, half the solar system is after her (not quite the infamy she wanted), and Jez is staring at the very real possibility of being sentenced to life on the inescapable prison planet. With the help of a bitter adversary, unscrupulous space pirates, and some old-fashioned skill, Jez has to clear her name, stop a murderer, and, oh, save a planet.

The Stymphalian system asked for a hero. They got a thief. Fantastic sinker.

The actual query that you've written here is very nice, but I'm fuzzy on two points. It could just be me, but I was under the impression as I read that Jez was captured (maybe it was the phrase "take the blame"), but it seems from subsequent sentences that she's actually on the run. So there needs to be some clarification there.

The other thing not quite working for me is the rather grandiose statement that Jez has to save the planet... um, where did that come in? I pieced together for myself that "stop a murderer" applies to the security guard (who presumably disappeared?) and therefore that makes me think there's some kind of political espionage at work here, which leads to her clearing her name and saving the planet. But I shouldn't have to put all that together myself (and I could be wrong, too). 

Be a little more straightforward with your plot elements and you're looking good. Right now you've got a wonderful hook, and sinker, plus fantastic voice in the query. Honestly you've got the hard work behind you! Good luck!

Friday, February 15, 2013

NOT A DROP TO DRINK Cover Reveal and Signed ARC Giveaway!

Yes, it's happening.

I know everyone has been waiting a long time for my cover reveal, and wouldn't you know that the sky is literally falling on the day that it happens.

But hey, let's think positive.

YABC is hosting my cover reveal AND a signed ARC giveaway! You could be one of the first people to read NOT A DROP TO DRINK... if you mosey over to the reveal and enter to win.

Reveal goes live at 12 PM EST! I would love for you to tweet me your reactions: @MindyMcGinnis

All I'm going to say is that I hope it's legal to marry a paperback in Ohio, because I'm taking my ARC's to the courthouse this afternoon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy PAPfest Day!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the PAPfest! We had some wonderful entries and are looking for great things to come from the writers who were selected to move on to the agent judging round. Our lovely agents - Adriann Ranta, Tina Wexler, Jennifer Laughran, Suzie Townsend, Laura Bradford and Pooja Menon - will be cruising the entries and making their requests in the comments of the entries until 9 PM EST tonight.

Don't forget the entries are spread out over my co-hosts blogs as well. MarcyKate Connolly and RC Lewis have PAPfest entries on their blogs as well, so don't miss out on some excellent new MG and YA voices being hosted on all three blogs.

And please if you're not an agent don't do any commenting on the entries until the judging is over! The entries will remain up and be available for cheerleading once the judging ends at 9 PM EST.

The PAPteam

Mindy McGinnis
RC Lewis
MarcyKate Connolly



GENRE: YA Science Fiction

WORD COUNT: 70,000


Charlotte Turner is trapped. There’s a meteor headed straight for Earth, and Char is stuck in juvy, a place that didn’t suck nearly so much before all the crashing and burning was on its way.

If she had one last wish, other than not dying in a fiery bang, it would be to apologize to her highly talented family, including her younger brother West, a budding botanist. It’s a shame, really, that Char’s main talents seem to be breaking and entering. But hey, a girl needs a hobby, and they say you should love what you do.

Char and West might have been close once, but despite her pleas of innocence, her latest conviction is the last straw, and now the whole family is ready to walk away from her forever. If she ever wants to see West again, she’ll have to escape from prison and steal a spot on an Ark, a spaceship bound for a new planet.

Char will need all her tricks of the trade to swindle her way to the stars, and even then, it might not be enough. Only one other person in juvy has skills to match hers: Isaiah, also known as the Mole, but he’s too blind to be accepted onto an Ark, and too jaded to care.


Together, they set out in search of new beginnings on Earth’s final day.

The Place Without Names received a Work in Progress Grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It is complete at 70,000 words. I have a degree in French literature, and I am grateful for your consideration.


On the last day of Earth, I couldn’t find my hairbrush. That probably seems like a silly thing to worry about, what with the imminent destruction of, well, everything, but my mom was always after me about my usual ratty ponytail. Normally, I’d ignore her. Or, if I were having a really bad day, I’d tell her what she could do with her hairbrush. But like I said, it was the last day of Earth. And I figured, since it was the last time she’d ever see me, I wanted it to go smoothly. I wanted her to remember me, if not fondly, then at least without anger.

A girl can dream.

I slipped out of my cell as soon as the door swung open. I’d done the same every day for the past month, and my family had yet to show up. Their OPT– Off-Planet Transport– took off in eighteen hours, so they still had time. Barely. I couldn’t blame them if they didn’t come. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they’d rather escape to the stars without so much as a backward glance at me, their big disappointment. Even my father’s influence couldn’t persuade the government to give me a spot on an OPT.

Turns out, when humankind is deciding which of its children to save, the last place it looks is in prison.



GENRE: YA Fantasy

WORD COUNT: 75,000


Sixteen-year-old Becca Ford becomes the target of a rogue wizard coven when she investigates the disappearance of plants from the nursery where she works. Becca doesn’t even know magic exists until Magical Internal Affairs intern Derek Moore tries to wipe her memory...and fails. When they flee to a magical island to protect her from the coven and find answers to why her memory can’t be erased, they have to cross the Continental Divide—a place of concentrated magic. Being near such potent magic brings out latent powers in Becca, powers that enable her to glow and control plants.

Becca is surrounded by white light that grows stronger or weaker depending on her mood. Becca is the Halo, a shield who according to some will save the magical world by uniting wizards and magical creatures. But her power is a threat to the current governor who wants nothing to do with elves, dwarves, unicorns or other ‘inhumans.’ Becca doesn’t know how to do magic or control her Halo, and if she doesn’t learn fast it could mean death for her and those she’s come to love.

CROSSING THE DIVIDE is a 75,000-word young adult fantasy that would appeal to readers of Veronica Roth and Tera Lynn Childs. I’m a member of SCBWI and received my English degree from The University of Texas at Austin.


Plants I get; they have guidelines. Sun or shade. Wet soil or dry. Prune them often or leave them alone.

“Hey, Becca, who picked out that skirt? Your grandma?” Kara Phinn snorts and saunters past.

People are harder.

From the edge of the Phinns’s yard I watch throngs of people sing, eat and laugh. Kara and I are in the same calculus class, but we don’t exactly hang with the same crowd.          

The Phinn’s annual Fourth of July cookout features live music, a catered B-B-Q dinner, and the opportunity to mingle with the Who’s Who in Sugarland, which is why my parents wanted to come. But I’m not exactly a mingler, so I squat down to deadhead some begonias, checking my watch for how much longer I’ll have to endure the crowd.

I would’ve designed this garden differently, but of course no one asked for my opinion. It’s nice, but the designer used a lot of annuals. I prefer perennials. They have staying power.

“Hello, Becca. Can’t keep your hands out of the dirt, can you?”

I fall and catch myself on my hands and knees. “Hi." I stand, brushing the dirt off my knees, then push a lock of hair out of my face, most likely smudging my forehead with dirt.



GENRE: Upper MG Contemporary

WORD COUNT: 50,000


Thirteen-year-old Anthony Wish has plans to make the gravy as they say in his parts. He's studying to win a scholarship to an elite school, Ducksbridge. Anything, to one day roar free of  Wrigley Field, bog land of middle England. Preferably in a red Ferrari.

But when his bankrupt father is sued by Lord Spur for faulty plumbing at his 18th century mansion, Anthony’s home is put on the market in order to pay. His get rich schemes are overshadowed by a horrible prospect: relocation to Grandpa’s tumbledown house in the freezing wilds, lost to all civilization, wifi connections and eligibility for the scholarship. There is also a distinct possibility his wildcard mother will throw in the towel and take off with her slimy yogi. That’s about two wilds too many for Anthony.

He plows all his entrepreneurial energy into bringing home the bacon – £50,000 to be precise. Saving his home, his parents' marriage and his very important future become his red alert priorities. In a moment of folly, Anthony pockets the key to the mansion and during Lord Spur's one week absence, rents it out to Matrix, a reckless rocker and his band. For entertainment he calls in the --uh-- Fabulous Gdanskys. Yeah, there's a slight problem with illegal residency and smuggled goods here, but who's looking when you're bankrupt and dumped with a dud family.

To rake in £50,000 rent money, all Anthony has to do is keep everyone in line and the mansion intact for five days. When his mother, however, gets wind and breezes in - and out - with the rocker and the riches, he's left betrayed, bankrupt and with a blubbing father for company. Revenge will be his - all the way to Venice - but on the way he'll learn just how deep love can flow and that the gravy is not all it's pumped up to be.


The police from Upper Luddley, the big smoke down the road, were sniffing around for the stolen antiques. My friend, Crank and I had watched one of them heave his stomach onto the bar down at the Green Man and ask a few casual questions just this morning.

We could have told him from the get-go that a fancy copper car and a peaked cap weren’t enough to get the burks in Wrigley Field talking.  Not that the burks knew anything.

Crank and I were the ones working the case and we were keeping it under our zombie t-shirts.  Let’s just say, there was a big reward out from police HQ for information. Until we were absolutely sure and ready to share, we didn’t want the uniforms coming in, claiming all the glory and robbing the gravy from us. The gravy is what we called money in these parts – the glorious gravy- and in my lifetime I was going to make a lot of it.

I took a breather from algebraic equations, sat back and pulled up Crank’s number. “Oi, Crank.  Are we on for tonight?” I said.

“A course. What do you think I am? A sissy?”

“It’s 'of course' and I’m thinking… a right dork?”



GENRE: Literary Middle Grade

WORD COUNT: 30,000


Eleven-year-old Ethan is hoping immortality is a hereditary trait.

Being immortal won’t solve all of his problems. Like the fact he lives by Becca Taylor, the scariest girl in school, or that he has Type I Diabetes, and he’s trying to keep it a secret. Being immortal is like having a superpower though, and that has to be better than just being Ethan, the kid with a crazy mom who thinks she’s 634 years old. The kid who still believes her, sometimes.

When his mom opens their home to Becca, Ethan’s life is exposed, and he’s certain she’ll blab about it to everyone. But Becca’s a girl who knows a thing or two about having secrets. She knows people have a reason for keeping them, and she wants to find out what Ethan’s mom is hiding. Immortality is a pretty big secret, if it’s real.

As Becca becomes determined to uncover the truth about Ethan’s mom, Ethan can’t help but want to join her. Even though he’s certain he doesn’t need Becca’s help investigating anything. Ethan’s mom is a clever woman, and finding clues about her life turns out to be a difficult, dirty, and sometimes even smelly job. Worst of all, they discover their own secrets can unravel quickly when they go digging through someone else’s.

As for myself, I was a creative writing major in college, and now am the happy mother of a nine-year-old, a thirteen-year-old, and three dogs. I am currently working on my next novel.


My mom liked to tell me she was 634 years old. Most of the time I thought she was just having fun with this game we’d always played.

“How old are you really Mom?”


“Are you sure? I thought you said you were 463 last time I asked.”

“Couldn’t be, because I clearly remember the Hundred Years War going on when I was a child in France.”

“Hundred Years War? So did you hang out with Joan of Arc as a girl?”

“Of course not. I was in my forties by the time she was doing her thing.”

“Sure you were.”

Sometimes, and this was embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I kind of believed her. When I was little, I totally believed her, but obviously once I’d gotten older, I knew my mom couldn’t be 634 years old.

Even if she had been telling the truth, I was pretty sure she hadn’t passed immortality on to me. I had Type I Diabetes. Who ever heard of an immortal who had to take insulin shots to eat? No one.

Truth is, I’d be lucky to live to 80. 634 was definitely out of the question. But it was always out of the question, right?



GENRE: YA Fantasy

WORD COUNT: 98,000


Isidora, crown princess of Olenea, dreams of marrying for love as her parents did before her. But when her father dies unexpectedly and she ascends the throne at the age of eighteen, a very different reality confronts her. Marriage means alliances and nothing more.

When Isidora refuses to wed, her council votes to rescind her power. To them, she is merely an ignorant girl unprepared to rule. Now her kingdom starves while Aphrodite’s temple overflows with tribute treasure, and massive empires loom, ready to swoop in and seize control of Olenea. Yet all her council seems to care about is whom she’ll choose as their king. Her only hope of restoring her power and saving her country is marrying one of three suitors: a passionate cousin from Corinth, a money-wise fashionista from Athens, or a celebrated warrior from Sparta. But the man Isidora is drawn to isn’t one of the three. An invader of privacy, infuriatingly secretive, and as it turns out, an exceptional kisser, he’s the only one who truly sees her. Which is ironic, since he is invisible.

As her forced wedding approaches, Isidora must make her choice. Without a strong alliance, Olenea will fall to the mercy of tyrants and warlords. In the face of assassination attempts, a divided people, and the threat of war, she must decide if she has the faith to declare the choice of her heart—and hope that true love has the power to save Olenea.

THE LOVELY INVISIBLE is a loose retelling of the Greek myth, “Cupid & Psyche,” and may appeal to readers who enjoyed the romantic suspense of Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW AND BONE and the rich setting of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA.


I stared at the marble face of the god of love, instead of the bronze mirror balanced on his wings. His mouth was sculpted in such a way I couldn’t determine whether he scowled or smirked at me.

“Look at yourself.” Nuri tilted up my chin. Scrutinizing my choice of attire, she clucked her tongue. “You shame the patron goddess.”

I wriggled my chin from her grasp. “I thought the virginal white would please her.”

She grabbed a fistful of my robe as if it were enough evidence to banish me. “You chose the white because it’s plain!”

I sighed and glanced at three papyrus scrolls. I wanted this day to be over. I wanted to curl into a quiet corner of the palace and read about the new cranes in Athens that lifted massive blocks of marble, the paved slipway near Corinth where boats were dragged across the isthmus, the rare collection of elegies by female poets. “Why should I draw attention to myself on Procession Day? The glory should go to the goddess.”

The god holding the mirror definitely scowled at me, as if he were more than chiseled stone and could hear my lie. I cared nothing for the glory of Aphrodite.



GENRE: YA Mystery

WORD COUNT: 50,000


It’s a world of laughter,
A world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes,
And a world of . . .

The night before seventeen-year-old Teegan Krane’s first day playing Alice in Wonderland at Disney World, she receives a mysterious invitation to a midnight scavenger hunt. Intrigued, she accepts. But the initiation rite turns from a dream to a nightmare when someone stalks her through the park, and another Alice is found poisoned the next morning.

As Teegan wonders whether she was the target, the police arrest a suspect: Teegan’s brother, the victim’s ex-boyfriend. But even after Miles’s arrest, the other Alices report shadows outside their apartments and threatening notes in their lockers. Talk about curiouser and curiouser.

When Teegan investigates behind-the-scenes (and under the streets) at the most magical place on earth, she discovers a world of jealousy and competitiveness blurring the line between fantasy and reality. And when all clues point to her roommate, Teegan knows it’s time to head down the rabbit hole for proof—or it’s off with all their heads.


A dozen white roses, an entire set of playing cards, and now a bucket of red paint.

“Do you have any idea who sent you those?” Heidi pulls off her Alice in Wonderland wig and hands it to me.

I finger the long blonde strands and imagine what the hair will look like on top of my bob. Probably awesome. “Maybe my brother? He knows how excited I am to start playing Alice.”

I study the roses for the millionth time today. They were the first item, found in my locker when I arrived to shadow Heidi this morning, stem wrapped with a note saying Smell Me. Then the deck of cards, discovered when I went to retrieve my lunch, in a package labeled Play Me. The paint, however, is new, waiting at the make-up bench after Heidi’s shift. Use Me. Heidi and I can’t figure out what that means. What are we supposed to paint?

Following Alice-lore, we should paint the roses red, but it seems silly to ruin the beautiful white blossoms with sloppy brushstrokes of crimson.

Heidi squeezes my shoulder. “You’re going to be great tomorrow.”



GENRE: Middle Grade

WORD COUNT: 28,000


THE SOMEWHAT MANLY SCRAPBOOK OF LUMBERSTAN’S BIG WOODS ADVENTURE is a humorous middle-grade novel set in Michigan in 1896. Complete at 28,000 words, it includes actual 19th century illustrations and photographs reminiscent of MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (without the creepiness). It will appeal to anyone who ever dreamed of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Greg Heffley having a love child, as well as those of us who find that idea a bit weird.

Like most eleven-year-old boys, Stanley Slater has his faults: a slight problem with cussing, an inability to keep his thoughts to himself, and a taste for library paste. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to be a good Man of the House for his sweet Mama, even when a mysterious letter shows up, money gets tighter, and her smile suddenly disappears.

The hullabaloo brought on by that letter multiplies when Stan’s grouchy granny demands they all move to a remote lumber camp for work. Smelly men of questionable reputations and a know-it-all cousin who diagnoses Stan with everything from Quinsy to Spontaneous Combustion should make for a miserable winter, but the only disease Stan catches is River Drive Fever.

Unfortunately Granny has other ideas. Rather than allowing Stan to go on the river drive, she prefers pinching him to death and fixing his mama up with Stinky Pete, a known killer.  Stan realizes his place as Man of the House may be in jeopardy, and he sets off to come up with a plan to win back his mama and earn the chance to go on the biggest, manliest adventure ever. Problem is, it might take something more than dotting whiskers on his face with ink to prove his manhood--something Stan’s not quite ready for, like wielding an ax, or facing facts: being the man of the family might not be as important as getting his sweet Mama back.

I am a former middle school English teacher whose family history traces back to Upper Peninsula logging camps. I hope to feature Stan (and Granny) in a sequel set during the river drive (The Very Wet Scrapbook of LumberStan’s Big River Adventure).


The envelope sits on the kitchen counter. It’s as hard to ignore as my empty stomach at three o’clock in the afternoon. And it reminds me.

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.
And I’m hungry.

I stuff a hunk of bread in my mouth and examine the envelope closely this time, now I know it’s tied to so much hullabaloo, and remember the first time I saw it.

To tell the God’s honest truth (which, of course, is the only kind of truth I ever tell), the first time I saw the envelope, I didn’t think much of it. Heck, it was just an envelope; it didn’t look like it would turn my life all topsy turvy. I picked it up, saw the sharp slit across the top and the empty space inside, and set it back on the table to continue on with my very important day. That was the day I spent cutting out pictures of trick banks to glue in my Scrapbook. I remember because Mama asked me what I was doing, and I told her “cutting out pictures of trick banks,” and she said, “Hmmm. Let me take a look, Stan.” The next thing I knew, she had snuggled up to me like butter on warm toast.



GENRE: Contemporary MG

WORD COUNT: 30,000


An old folks’ home is not where twelve-year-old Haley wants to spend her summer, but it’s where her mom works and Haley is stuck tagging along. At least she has plenty of time to figure out a way to make enough cash to buy a cell phone and smuggling contraband in is just the ticket. It turns out old people have a sweet tooth and selling snacks to the residents is a real money-maker.

Things turn less lame when Haley finds out that the newest resident, a retired Marine, likes her favorite TV show. He lets her watch Cajun Pawn Stars with him for the small price of a few Oreos an episode. Haley’s summer gets exciting when she discovers sixteen-year-old Rachel who’s living at the facility because it’s cheaper than a hospital. The only problem is she’s in a coma thanks to the driver of a getaway car. Rachel’s roommate is 80-something Miss Essie who can’t remember that the year is 2013 and Jimmy Carter is no longer President. So when she tells Haley that the strange men who come to visit Rachel are actual bank robbers who want to hurt the only witness, Haley has to decide if Miss Essie might be right.

If a kid who’s stranded for the summer, a former Marine General who’s given up on life, and an old lady with Alzheimer’s can solve a bank robbery and prevent a murder,  it’s possible Haley will have the best How I Spent My Summer essay in the history of middle school.

THE SUMMER I STARTED A BUSINESS, SOLVED A BANK ROBBERY, AND SHOWED UP ON CAJUN PAWN STARS is a 30k middle grade novel. I’ve been a teacher and school counselor for over twenty years. Currently, I’m a middle school counselor with the largest school system in the Southeast. I am also a member of SCBWI.


The smell hit me as soon as I stepped into the lobby. Old people. A combination of Lysol, Old Spice, hair spray, and peppermint. If you’re not prepared, it’ll knock you over.

Go ahead and take a whiff the next time you walk into a nursing home. Wait—I’m the only almost 7th grader who has to spend her summer in one. This was going to be the worst two and a half months of my life—stuck for the third time in a row at Mom’s work.

I saw Amy walk in the front door and followed her to the beauty parlor.

“Hey, Haley. How’s your summer going?” Amy asked as she balanced the box of beauty supplies on her hip and unlocked the parlor door.

“So far it stinks. Mom won’t trust me to stay home by myself."

Amy almost fell in when the door gave way. “She’s scared you’ll burn the house down, huh?”

I walked in and plopped down in the first pink chair with the old-lady-helmet style hair dryer attached to it. “No. She’s afraid I’ll spend my whole summer in front of the TV watching Cajun Pawn Stars. I told her that wasn’t even possible seeing how it only comes on a couple of times a week. But as you can see, I’m here.” I pushed the buttons. ON. OFF. COOL. OFF.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A BBCHAT With Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron & Associates

Today BBCHAT returns! For my new followers, this is an acronym for BigBlackCat's Humane Agent Talk: In Which A Particularly Agreeable Agent Answers a Series of Questions that Have Nothing to do with Queries or Submission Guidelines. Yeah, don't try to make an acronym out of that last bit.

The BBCHAT is designed to get the personality of the agent in the spotlight, and an enterprising querier can use this information to figure out if the agent is a good fit for them, rather than just another agent who happens to cover their genre.

The last question involves something that oddly resembles a contest, and ties in with the blog name.

Today's guest for the BBCHAT is Pooja Menon, of Kimberley Cameron & Associates which she joined as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. She represents both fiction and non-fiction for Adult and YA markets.

As a new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She's looking for writing that has an easy flow and a timely pacing, along with a unique perspective and a strong voice.

  • In fiction, she is interested in literary, historical, commercial, and high-end women's fiction. However, she's most drawn to stories with an international flavor, vibrant characters, multi-cultural themes, and lush settings.
  • In fantasy, she's looking for original, layered plots with worlds as real and alive as the ones that were created by J.K Rowling and Tolkien.
  • In non-fiction, she's looking for adventure & travel memoirs, journalism & human-interest stories, and self-help books addressing relationships and the human psychology from a fresh perspective.
  • In YA, she's looking for strong realistic contemporary novels with heart (think John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jennifer Browne, Jay Asher, etc), fantasy (think J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, etc), magical-realism, Sci-fi, dark psychological thrillers, adventure/mysteries, and historical fiction.
What are you reading right now and why do you like it?

PM: The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones. I say I'm reading this right now, but with all the slush and client reading (not to mention the humanitarian work I do, the people I save, the children I rescue single-handedly...) I haven't gotten past page 90 since the past month. Mortifying, I know!

The book is very interesting, though. It's about an art detective who goes about retrieving art that were stolen by the Nazis during World War 2. She eventually ends up investigating an 82 year-old woman whose mother was rumored to have collaborated with the Nazis during the war. She then supposedly escaped Germany and came to America with her daughter and a stash of priceless paintings. The detective eventually uncovers a secret so big, so monumental... I should probably not say more. But it's a good read, so far.

Paper or plastic? 

Paper. No doubt. I have an e-reader, a kindle, somewhere in my house. I get so greedy and excited by the new releases at bookstores, and since I can't buy them all that minute, I take down their names and download the samples onto my kindle, for future reference (so I can buy them in paper form). But don't tell my husband that. He thinks I'm using it, a lot.

What's on your bucket list?

Ah. The question that made me think. I spent a whole evening stressing about my "bucket" list. Managed to come up with a meagre six.

  • Travel to every single continent in the world before I kick my, err, bucket. Especially Africa. I cannot help but feel fascinated by how beautiful and wild that place is.
  • Be a doggy mama. This is going to happen soon as we're getting a pup in the fall. Looking forward to having many sleepless nights.
  • Learn how to salsa, dive, sail, and bake. I loathe cooking, but something about baking and eating what you bake sounds promising.
  • Be more active and physically fit. Since the gym bores me to tears, I have resolved to use the uneven, hilly terrain of SF as my gym. Now I only have to get my ass off the couch, which is so very hard.
  • Sell lots and lots of books and become a super agent, make my clients very happy, and make myself very happy. Every project I pick is one that I love to death. One that I believe deserves to be read and enjoyed. And I'm positive the universe agrees with me, too. (Gives the universe a hard, threatening glare.)
  • Learn how to drive. I know, I know. I'm the last person on earth who doesn't know how to drive. Let's just say my fear of dying in a crash, or causing a crash has been rather hard to wean off. But I'm getting there.

Have you ever ridden a mechanical bull? (It’s on MY bucket list, so that's why it's here).

PM: No, but I want to! I just can't find anyone who will be willing to go through the mortification with me. Are you up for it?

If you had a guaranteed sell, what type of story would you like to represent?

PM: To be honest, from what I've seen, nothing is guaranteed in this business. People's tastes are so subjective, the best thing you can hope for is that someone will love the book as much as you do and give it a chance. I would represent the story for the story's sake. If I love it, if it keeps me awake at night, if I worry about losing it to someone else-I would represent it, and then would work hard to make it a sell. Guaranteed or not.

Pooja has shared three facts about herself, but... one of them is a LIE! See if you can figure out which one is false in the Rafflecopter below. The winner will be chosen next week and announced here on the blog. I will also email you separately. You can only enter once, and if you enter twice... I'll know. Smart kitty. Winner gets a copy of CREWEL by Gennifer Albin. But guess what? Even if you're not even of a sleuth to figure out what Pooja is lying about, the CREWEL e-book recently went on sale for $2.99! Yeah, so if you don't win the physical copy you can console yourself with an e-book.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to Pooja for participating in the BBCHAT! The winner and prize will be announced next week here on the blog. Remember you must be a follower of Writer, Writer to win!

Monday, February 11, 2013

So Much To Tell, So Much To Say

Wow. Just that.

I've had an insane past couple weeks.

I was in NYC at the beginning of the month for the 2013 Winter SCBWI conference. I can't tell you how amazing it is as a reader, writer, and librarian to be standing in a crowd and suddenly have someone quite, quite famous walk past you. It's just... it makes you spill things.

I also had some amazing fun meeting my editor, Sarah Shumway, Katherine Tegen (yes, I said that) my agent, Adriann Ranta, some amazing Harper authors such as Matt Kirby, Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Gail Carson Levine (!!), and Jodi Meadows.

Jodi Meadows is just like a Happy Meal. There's lots of stuff jammed into a small package and she comes with her own toys. Yes, really.

And while all this awesome was happening, I was also constantly in the presence of my excellent and admirable CPs Liz Coley, RC Lewis and MarcyKate Connolly, who made sure that The Mindy was never lost, stolen, or broken. It's a good thing I have some keepers.

And on top of all that I had pizza in Grand Central Station with a bunch of my AgentQuery Connect compatriots, the aforementioned CP's along with Charlee Vale and Matt Sinclair of Elephant's Bookshelf Press.

And then I get an email from Beth Revis inviting me to join The League of Extraordinary Writers. I honestly spent most of my flight home suffering from a very positive and awesome form of PTSD. I have no idea what just happened to me, but I loved every second.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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, 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!

For Kylie Rippons changing events in time is like braiding. Except the steep cost the power demands – she must forfeit a pieces of soul. I'm not entirely sure that the second part of your hook here is a complete sentence. Also, while braiding time is a really interesting concept, you're not illustrating that here, just what the price is. I'd go with one or the other for the hook - losing bits of soul, or introducing the concept of braiding time. And, if you're going to even approach the braining metaphor, it will need some explanation within the query.

The gods want her unique skills for their never-ending wars, uncaring of the cost she must bear. But she prefers sanity so is it a spiritual price she's paying or a mental one? I feel like you're giving me two different images here. with her tattered spirit intact. The only solution is to wage war against the powerful immortals using secondary abilities, especially if it guarantees her beloved son, Riot, will remain a secret. Interesting... waging war, Ok cool. So she has secondary abilities? What are they? How would waging war against the gods help keep Riot a secret? It seems more likely to bring more attention to her and endanger him.

Two ancient goddesses, an outcast Valkyrie and a rogue Beserker nice, I like that a lot team up with Kylie to protect and fight with her. Together, they hunt the gods, in hopes of forcing them leave her alone. Too bad life gets in the way. She loses battles, is betrayed by a beloved ally, and finds herself on the verge missing "of?" being completely soulless. But I thought she was using these yet-unnamed secondary abilities and not braiding time, which is the soul-endangering ability, right? 

Kylie wants her son, sanity and missing "to?" live a life of peace in the Denver suburbs. Instead, the gods learn of young Riot, a demi-god with the same power as his mother, and intend to use him as leverage. I think this is your hook -- all the way down here. Riot sounds like a huge motivator for your MC so let's get him front and center. She must face her worst nightmare: braid time and temporarily remove the threat to Riot - losing soul and sanity in the process, or find the courage to follow one bright string depicting a time line in which Riot is safe. And she is dead. So what's the difference really? She can either be insane and soulless - or dead? Assuming those aren't both the same thing?

It sounds like you have a fun idea here, mixing fantasy elements with the parental concerns - but you need to get your genre front and center as well. I was thinking pure fantasy as I read, and then suddenly Denver gets tossed into the mix and I'm all Wha? You also need to get Riot out there first - I really think that the line you've got buried in your last para is your hook. Also, the idea of changing time is tossed out there as an incidental, like Oh yeah, this is something she can do. But why does that matter? It's never addressed within the query how she does this, or why it matters, only that it's a danger to her if she does it too much.

I think there's a good concept here, but you need to get some clarification into this query about the Why's and the Where's and some How's. Some rearranging could do you wonders here in addressing a few of those problems.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Talk - THE SIN-EATER'S CONFESSION by Ilsa J. Bick

Ben's life is planned. He's the valedictorian, spends all of his free time volunteering at the ER, and should be accepted in Yale any day now. When the star football player is killed in a car accident, Ben only does what is right - he shows up at the the family's dairy farm to help with the chores. Other well-meaning people do the same, as everyone knows that Jimmy - the skinny, quiet younger brother - isn't going to be able to fill the shoes left empty by Del's death.

Though the other neighbors drift away in the days following, Ben remains. An urge to protect Jimmy - from the fists of his father and from the rumors of their classmates - keeps him there long into the summer and the hay-baling season. When Jimmy snaps a candid shot of Ben sleeping on the hay wagon, neither of them can know the eruption that will follow.

Jimmy's natural talent lands him a prestigious photography prize - but the picture he took without Ben's knowledge is loaded with implied sexuality. The rumors flare, Jimmy's father's fists fly, and Ben never returns to the farm. Now Ben's name is linked with Jimmy's in the gossip-mill of small town Wisconsin, where you fit in... or you don't.

Angry with his friend for using the photo without his permission, and even more angry with himself for not knowing exactly how he feels about Jimmy, Ben plans to confront him - but instead witnesses his murder. It's an old-fashoined stoning, with a hatchet thrown in. Terrified, Ben flees the scene - and spends the following years wondering what kind of person abandons their friend to a violent death.

Who is Ben, really? What did he feel for Jimmy? What does he feel now? Can he live the life that's been planned for him with blood on his hands? And more importantly, does he want to fit the mold that has been cast for him by his family and classmates, or strike out into territory when he's truly in charge of his own life?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately revolve around my recent trip to NYC...

1) You know you must be an odd duck when a Japanese tourist gives you a funny look in Grand Central Station. Yes, really.

2) Writers seem to be fueled by coffee. And other liquids.

3) The lobby of the Hyatt has an interesting 2001 type-theme. I'm not an artist, and I'm really not sure what's up with the huge white head, but it was quite useful when trying to locate my crit partners during the cocktail party. I sent a text that read, "Hey, I'm under the left ear of the head - where are you?"

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Successful Author Talk with Sci-Fi YA Co-Authors Katherine Ernst & Chelle Bruhn

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) are a pair of talented Sci-Fi YA co-authors. Chelle & Katherine have been concocting stories together since they were 15—or, well, 14 if you count the stories they’d tell their parents to get away with things. A few years ago they discovered a play they wrote together in the 10th grade and thought they should take a serious stab at this whole writing thing. They’ve been hard at work writing novels ever since. They’re represented by the amazing Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron & Associates, and their YA Ottoman-inspired Steampunk novel, VEILED, will soon be out on submission. They eagerly anticipate seeing their names in golden typeface on the cover of a book (not that they’re picky or anything).

Writing Process:
Are you a Planner or Pantster?

KE: Can I first say that I hate the term pantster? It sounds like you like to run around pulling people’s pants off (not that I haven’t been known to do that). But seriously, in my own writing, I am definitely a planner. If I didn’t have an outline, I’d just stare at a blank screen all day. Working with a co-author only makes planning even more important.

CB: I’m a planner with panster tendencies. In solo projects I’ll plan an overarching story and then dive into individual scenes without much planning. I have found, though, that I’m way more likely to actually stick with a project if I have a detailed outline, because, like Katherine said, no plan equals a lot of time staring at a blank screen. There’s no way to not outline if you’re working with a co-author though.

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

KE: I guess it depends on the project and how much time I have to dedicate to writing. The young adult and middle grade novels I’ve written have taken about two-four months, but I’m currently working on an adult project that requires a lot more research, and I have a feeling it’s going to take me six months or more.

CB: Katherine and I have written two novels together—one took about four months from start to finish, and the other about two. Honestly, if I wasn’t accountable to a co-author I might never finish anything, as evidenced by the half-written manuscript I’ve been kicking around for about a year now. :)

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

KE: I only actively write one novel at a time, but I’ll start working on a new project (conceptualizing at least) while I’m editing the most recent one.

CB: I definitely stick to writing one project at a time, though sometimes new ideas pop up that demand a little attention. Switching between projects can be difficult when you’re trying to maintain separate and distinct voices. I also try to pay attention to my kids every once and awhile.

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

CB: I had to convince myself that I could actually devote the time and energy to finishing something. I have a tendency to jump into things full steam ahead and then get overwhelmed or bored with a project and abandon it. Finishing the first novel, even if it never sees the light of day, went a long way in convincing me that I might actually have a shot at this whole author thing.

KE: I thought I wouldn’t be able to write description because I’m not a visual person. Writing with Chelle helps for that because she’s the description queen, and when I write novels solo, I just don’t get too description-heavy. Problem solved.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

CB: If we’re talking finished manuscripts, then just the first project Kate and I wrote together. I actually stepped away from writing for awhile after that, both because I was finishing a masters degree and because I was pretty discouraged by the first round of rejections. But then Kate had an amazing idea and very generously asked me to work on it with her. It was way too good to pass on, and I’m very glad I put on my big girl pants and got back to the keyboard.

KE: Other than what Chelle mentioned, I’ve actually written two other novels on my own. One of them actually did gain representation, but that novel never sold when it was on submission. That agent, sadly, didn’t represent YA Sci-Fi, so when Chelle and I finished VEILED, our current novel, we had to query for a new agent.

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

KE: I don’t quit things.

CB: Never officially, but, like I said before, I’ve definitely abandoned them for “later”. That’s why Kate is the perfect co-author. She keeps me motivated when I’m ready to give up.

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

KE: We’re currently represented by Pooja Menon, a new agent at Kimberley Cameron and Associates. We queried her in the traditional manner, but we also entered a few contests at the same time, one that she incidentally was a judge for. Did it make her jump on our manuscript even faster? I’d like to think so.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

CB: We queried for about a month with just a few nibbles, so in the second month of sending out queries we started entering contests as well. That definitely raised the number of requests we received and eventually helped snag our agent.

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

KE: Don’t give up. Don’t despair. Make writer friends. They’ll send leads your way and otherwise keep you sane.

Social Networking and Marketing: 
Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

CB: We’re glad you asked. We maintain a joint blog, and we’re both on twitter (Chelle, Katherine). Katherine also has a Facebook page.

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

KE: Before, for sure. We’re trying to increase our web presence now, but we began building our platform before landing Pooja, but I definitely wish we’d put more emphasis on it before. It takes months to years to really get a following going and make connections with other writers and readers.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

CB: I guess we’ll find out!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Saturday Slash

Meet my 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, 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!

Influenced by comic book heroes, Jason Conner’s dream was to become a hero Echo here with "hero" I think you can safely cut "heroes" from "comic book heroes" and still get your point across and show the world mages can use their powers for good. But thanks to the International Mage Council (IMC) and their army called the White Knights, no dream is possible. I'm a little thrown here - you say that Jason is influenced by comic books, and he wants to become a hero, which automatically has me envisioning a contemporary setting, but it can't be with a Mage Council, or any kind of acceptance of mages at all With a growing anti-mage sentiment, hope for any future is lost. Jason didn’t want to give up hope "hope" echo, but his dream was completely shattered with the murder of his parents when he was just a boy. Why would the death of his parents when he was young shatter his hope- and which hope specifically? His hope to become a "good mage," or just hope / will to survive in general? Now 18 years old and with no hope "hope" echo again of a future, Jason’s only wish is justice for the death of his parents. No longer caring about his academics, Jason begins a life-changing quest to hunt down the murderers across England, taking the law into his own hands. But is it really justice? Hey look at that - here's your hook. But it's at the end of your para. Everything preceding this isn't hook-y enough. Dead parents, dreams dashed, a bad controlling power - that's all well and good, but nothing original. Here you've got it, he's going to get vigilante justice, which goes against hero qualities. Get this front and center.

Silent and reserved, 19 year old Gray Maelstrom, unnecessary comma only wants to live a quiet life of peace with his brother Jako and his lover Sarah. He always believed he could adapt to the IMC’s unfair treatment of mages. The last thing Gray wants is to join you need a "his" here or "a" deranged father’s crusade if it means helping the man who took him away from his mother when he was a boy. I had to read this sentence a few times to untangle it. It's convoluted But everything changes when the IMC strikes and Sarah is murdered by the White Knights. Unable to forgive the IMC, Gray’s grief morphs into a hunger for vengeance. Joining his father’s crusade against the humans, Ok wait - so mages and humans are different things entirely? I thought humans could be mages, also, I wasn't sure from the first reference to "father" if his crusade was for or against the IMC. Now I get that it's against, and also implied that all IMC members are humans, but I had to untangle all that Gray begins his quest to avenge the deaths of his loved ones, forgetting that his choices have consequences.

Set in modern day England, HEROES: VENDETTA is an 111,000 word character-driven science fiction and fantasy for YA. Emotional, dark, epic, and with a bit of teen humor, the story shows us how hatred consumes an individual, teaching us there is a line between justice and revenge. Great line here, could be used for a hook The world of X-Men meets the world of Final Fantasy. <-- not a complete sentence here.

It looks like there's some great stuff at work here, but I had to mine it out of the query, and that's not what you need a query to do. I think the line I marked in your last para there could have a lot of hook qualities about it, also the concept of choices having consequences. It sounds like the biggest question of the book is what these choices to pursue and eye for an eye mentality means for your characters, how it will change them as people in ways they probably don't want. But again, I had to mine that feeling out of the query while trying to get past some things I'm not understanding.

Biggest questions- are humans and mages two entirely different things? How do these two characters that you've mentioned above relate to each other? Without the obvious shared background, there could technically be two mini-queries up there. Do they end up working together? Tell us that. 

There's a possibility for great depth here but you need to get that front and center. The details that are being thrown out early on can be a turn off, but if you can hook them with a great concept, they'll want to keep reading to see the details of how it will be delivered.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Talk - THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER by Megan Shepherd

Thrown from a life of privilege into one of servitude in a London medical hospital, Juliet Moreau has kept her intelligence to herself and always made sure to attend church services in an effort to shed the family scandal caused by her father's horrendous experiments. Her memories tell her that Father was a kind man, and that the rumors of his work must have been born of professional jealousy. But when she walks in on an illegal after-hours vivisection, her own interest has her questioning if madness is hereditary.

When evidence arises that her father may be alive - and continuing his work - on a deserted island, Juliet leaps at the chance to leave a life of drudgery behind her. Solving the mystery of her past and learning the truth of her father's character drives her to a place no dignified young lady would go - a place both dark and powerful, one where walls are built to keep the monsters out at night.The island's power over Juliet's natural curiosity only intensifies when she finds her father's operating room- and what it's been producing.

The island isn't the only thing raising questions. Juliet's attraction to her childhood playmate and assistant to her father flies in the face of propriety. Meanwhile, Edward, a noble young castaway saved by her passenger ship on the way to the island, can offer her a life like the one she left behind - but with restored respectability.

As Juliet dissects her father's character she makes gruesome discoveries about her own, and does not know whether she will choose the dark path of the unknown, or the respectable one her father insists upon. More importantly, she questions which one she was truly born for.