Saturday, November 30, 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.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Meet Good King Johnny. He’s handsome. Charming. Heroic. Shining armour and all.

He’s just woken up the morning after Happily Ever After. Technically your hook is fine, but I love this idea of the morning after Happily Ever After. If you can make that your hook, it'd be more powerful. After pouring his soul into being known as the ‘good’ king, defending his borders, building hospitals and sewers, being honest and gallant and true, this is the ending he’s been dreaming of. He’d just like to live out his days with his new bride in peace.

Too bad he can’t stand her. Nor is anyone grateful for his hospitals and sewers; the taxes they require incite rebellion. Oh, and his neighbors are annexing his border castles again, probably because he spares those who surrender.  He knows dead men don’t trouble you twice, but a good and benevolent king does not stoop to butchery. Nice this all looks good so far.

Conveniently, his evil younger brother will.

Edmund’s unchivalrous. Sneaky. Brutal. Even has a pointy beard. Not a full sentence here. His willingness to burn people to death in their sleep is reprehensible… but it ends the war, saving far more lives. The violence he uses to force taxes out of the populace makes Johnny’s skin crawl… but unfinished sewers leak filth and disease.

Johnny’s no longer sure what he stands for. If he uses what works, he’ll be the evil he despises, but if he sticks to his principles, countless people will die. It was never supposed to go like this; he’s supposed to be the hero! Save the world, get the girl, the end.

Problem is, there is no end. There’s just the point where the storytellers stop talking. Fantastic sinker here.

HAPPPILY EVER AFTER is a 90,000 word historical fantasy with fairytale influences. It would appeal to fans of Sharon Kay Penman’s “Lionheart” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods.”

I am history nerd and professional performer. I’m not a knight in shining armour, but I play one at a Renaissance Faire. Great bio!

Overall this is a solid query, with a great concept - the reality behind HEA. I love the questions of the gray area between what is right and wrong. With a couple of polishes like getting the hook a little snappier, you're ready to query.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Successful Author Talk With Debut Novelist Victoria Aveyard

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Victoria Aveyard, a member of the Freshmen Fifteens and author of THE RED QUEEN, coming from HarperTeen in 2015. And if that doesn't make you sing a little ditty, nothing will.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Full disclosure, I had to look this up. I guess I’m sort of in between – I started TRQ with about a ten page outline and a few more pages of background world info, then I dived into the story. I despise outlining, but love worldbuilding, and made a conscious effort to rein myself in from worldbuilding too much and killing my drive outright. I’m a big believer in letting the story and the characters take you where they want to go, and the second act reflected this the most. I like to know my first and third act down cold, and then let the characters knit the two together with their own actions and growth.

With other projects, I’m definitely a Pantster. Last night I wrote about 2k words of a story and I had no idea where it came from or where it was going, I just know it wanted to come out.

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

I had never finished a novel before TRQ, so I can only go by that particular project. The first draft was 160,000 words, and took six to seven months to write. Another two months to revise with my agent Suzie, who took a very well-wielded machete to my mammoth of a manuscript. Basically, I wrote the first sentence of TRQ in late June 2012, and we sold to HarperTeen in April 2013.

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

I generally like to multitask, but when I’m down and deep in a project, I work on that and that alone. During TRQ, that was the only idea I worked on, and I’m currently trying to get back into machine writing mode.

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

I started the book about a month after I graduated college, where I spent four years in writing workshop styled classes for my screenwriting BFA. I’d basically been writing every day for years at that point, and sitting down to write wasn’t an issue. It was creating something I was proud of, that I actually liked reading, and that surprised even me when the characters developed minds of their own.

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

Never finished a manuscript before, but I have five feature screenplays that will probably never see the light of day. I’m proud of all of them, but they are definitely staying locked away on my computer.

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

I guess the first manuscript I quit on was a picture book about an escaped princess I started when I was six and promptly forgot about ten sentences in. Since then, I tried my hand at Tolkien-esque high fantasy too many times to count, and always got bogged down. They were derivative, clich├ęd and eternally flawed, and I knew it. But the experience was nice!

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My warrior princess agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. I came to her untraditionally, and, judging by what I’ve heard about querying, I’m so glad I never had to face down that firing squad. Long story short: I pitched the idea of writing a kickass YA novel to the talent management company Benderspink in Los Angeles. They brought me in to pitch pilots and screenplays, and the little voice in my head told me to do this instead. They liked the idea, I wrote TRQ, and in January, the company passed on my manuscript to Pouya Shahbazian at New Leaf. He had sold the movie option to The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos in conjunction with Benderspink, so they had a working relationship. Pouya thought TRQ was up Suzie’s alley and, against all odds, she read it the weekend she got it. After a revision, she offered representation.

I never spoke to any other agents and I’m so glad I landed where I did. I honestly had no idea how publishing worked or what good agencies were – and somehow I ended up at one of the best! I honestly think I must have been crucified and/or killed by Mongol invasions in a past life to earn this one.

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

Everyone comes in differently. Weird things happen. What works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. And above all things, do what suits you best, not someone else. Just because so-and-so blasted 80 queries out in a week and got repped off it doesn’t mean you will. It could just take one, or 100, or 1000, or none at all. There’s no set path for this – you can only make your own.

How do you think it will feel the first time you see your book for sale?

I’m expecting to faint and/or set up camp in my local Barnes & Noble to pet my book when it comes out.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My wonderful editor Kari Sutherland at HarperTeen has just gotten the ball rolling on the cover process. We’ve started discussing, and my ideas were definitely welcome, if not encouraged. I’m so excited to see where we end up!

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

How nice everyone in publishing is. From the agents to the Twitter followers, people are absolutely grand. I spent four years learning how to break into the film agency and it was full of horror stories of awful, shark-like, Ari Gold people who I would probably punch in the face. Instead, I’m now working with people I consider real friends both in publishing and in film. They’re so genuine, and they let me ramble about Game of Thrones. They even join in!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’m most active on Twitter, mostly because it gives me an outlet to vent my sports/Game of Thrones/boring feelings and complaints. I also blog occasionally (I’m terrible at keeping up with it), and more so at Tumblr because it allows me to reblog funny Game of Thrones gifs. I’m very much a fangirl. As for true marketing, this is my first ever interview, and I expect things to intensify when we get closer to my publishing date in 2015.

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

I didn’t have a platform/probably still don’t properly have one. I don’t do much more than tweet my feelings about odd things I find in Target (VELVET SUNGLASSES), but I do finally have a Goodreads author account, and TRQ is on there as well! It magically appeared overnight, probably because of a fairy.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I hope so, but I assume it won’t be the end all to be all. Hopefully after people read my book, they go hmm, I wonder what that Victoria lady is like, and find my Twitter full of Game of Thrones theories and derogatory things about the New York Jets (PATRIOTS 4 LIFE). Then they’ll shrug and be happy I found a job that keeps me away from real people.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How To Stop Women From Writing

I spent the weekend in West Virginia with my boyfriend's family for Thanksgiving. It was really lovely to sit down to eat food I didn't make, and be able to sit down and relax in a house I didn't feel responsible for cleaning.

And then I came home.

I have two indoor cats and two dogs. My mom was nice enough to let the dogs in and out while I was gone, but everybody was anxious at my absence and it was easily seen. At some point someone had clearly dug into the garbage can. There were little cat paw prints on the counter that could only be seen in a certain light, but I knew they were there. Judging by the defiant looks, I'm guessing the kitties knew I knew and didn't care. The laundry I was supposed to do last week was waiting on me, the dishes in the sink were still dirty, and I really needed to put fresh bedding on my bed.

But the drive home had given me a few hours of warm, fast-moving-cocoon, quiet time. And the little seed in my brain that wants to become the WIP germinated in those few hours, sprouting supporting characters and ripping off a series of things I need to research if I really want to do this project justice.

Seeing all that housework waiting on me the second I walked in the door was like a killing frost on that seedling, as effective as the 15 degrees outside. There were things staring at me in the real world that needed my attention. People notice when you let these things go.

But the only person that knows when you let things go in your imagination is you.

So I decided to be dutiful, and I started in on the dishes when I suddenly remembered a quote from Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write... and you know it's a funny thing about housecleaning... it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectabilty) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.
In MindyLand this translates as, "F#(*! the dishes. I'm writing."

Saturday, November 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.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

When her best friend’s careless mistake steals her life away, seventeen-year-old Hayley Brighton aches to find the future she deserves. Resolving to not accept her death lying down confusion here - whose death? It's ambiguous so far who actually died / is under threat of death - the friend, or Hayley?, Hayley sets out in search of a continued life very unclear - is she, in fact, dead? And how does one search for continued life? and meets the person who makes her feel like she still has one: handsome and magnetic Clark McConnell. Clark renews Hayley’s hope that she can obtain the vitality she craves—and a chance at once-in-a-lifetime love. You need to get some clarity in here - what is the "mistake" and who did it effect? Hayley or her friend? How does one search for a continued life? Also, I have no feeling for genre here - because I scanned this before hand I know it's magical realism, but from this first para I don't have a feeling for whether the setting is contemp, fantasy, or SF.

But first Hayley must face a devastating assignment. From who? An assignment implies someone else told her to do it. To secure the life—and new love—she longs for, she must save the life of the person who ripped hers away. OK so... she IS dead?

And she has mere days to do it. Shackled to the mistake of killing her best friend, Leah Isakson Uh-Oh, POV switch inside of the query isn’t sure how long she can live as a prisoner to her guilt and has nearly decided that joining Hayley might be her only freedom. OK so Leah is considering killing herself and Hayley needs to stop her. Got it - but why is there a deadline of mere days on this? You can mention Leah without giving her the POV in this para.

Now Hayley must figure out how, unseen and unheard, to reach and rescue Leah. If she fails, she loses both Clark and her chance to replace what death snatched away. If she succeeds, the girl who just died will have her entire life ahead of her. Good closure here, but your pronouns are causing you problems because of the ambiguity of who is being referred to. Rephrase so it's clear the last sentence is about Hayley, and also -- she'll have her entire life ahead of her? Like, literally? Or in some kind of parallel universe / magical thing?

Hayley Brighton refuses to lose her life all over again. Honestly I'd say that the last para is strong enough that you don't need this line.

CERTAIN AS THE SUNRISE, my YA magical realism novel, complete at 55,000 words, will resonate with fans of Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL and Gayle Foreman’s IF I STAY. Nice comps here. I think the premise is strong - a girl makes a mistake that kills her friend, that friend then attempts to stop her suicide from the afterlife and as a reward.... well, I'm unclear on the reward. What this query needs is an infusion of clarity. Get that in there and your concept gets the attention it deserves.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: MY LOBOTOMY by Howard Dully

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it. (Which, considering the title of this week's Book Talk, is a pretty funny statement).

Howard Dully was a rambunctious twelve year old boy - slightly messy, moody, antagonistic with his brothers and occasionally defiant with his parents. In other words, a fairly normal pre-teen boy. But it was 1960, and his stepmother resented his behavior. She visited Dr. Walter Freeman, the father of transorbital lobotomy. Using her domineering personality to wear down Howard's father, the two signed paperwork allowing Howard to become one of Dr. Freeman's youngest patients to ever receive a lobotomy.

Despite popular belief regarding lobotomies, patients do not always become zombies or vegetables. Because of his youth, Howard's brain was able to adjust and re-assign certain frontal lobe duties and he was capable of caring for himself and performing most tasks. But his personality was affected, and his stepmother found him no easier to control in their home. Shortly after the procedure did not procure the results she was hoping for, Howard found himself in a mental institution.

Bounced from mental hospitals to teen homes as a youth, then jails and bars as a young man, Howard was unable to form healthy relationships and make good decisions. Years of social rejection and personal self-hate built up until he decided to seek answers following the death of his stepmother. Suspecting that he had done something horrible to deserve his fate, Dully began interviewing surviving family members and even gained access to Dr. Freeman's notes on his case only to discover a more shocking truth - he had just been a normal boy.

Readers be aware there are photographs in this book that may be hard to stomach, including the before, during and after photographs that Dr. Freeman took of Dully while performing the surgery.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Smell is the most adaptive sense we have. Think about it. If you smell a good or bad smell, and then are around it more than a few minutes you can't smell it anymore. What if touch worked that way? Torture would be ineffective and sex would be obsolete.

2) And speaking of sex - men make sex noises when lifting weights. I don't mind, because I totally get that it does actually help you lift, but I also think that if I did the same thing at the gym it'd be really distracting for them.

3) Pedicures feel good and are also completely undermine your ability to function as a human being. After a few solid workouts post-pedicure I have flappy ripped skin on my feet because it was all completely useless baby-soft skin. Now my feet are not only useless and painful, but the sexy-feet attempt has been undone now that it looks like I have leprosy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Wolf

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Jump the gun is a phrase I use often, partly because of my environment, and partly because I'm always in a hurry and slightly spastic. But where does it come from?

After I looked it up I was kind of ashamed that I didn't figure it out on my own. Jump the gun, not surprisingly, comes from track and field events where the participants leave the starting line before the official has fired the gun to being the race.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Debut Novelist Gets Her Cover: AdriAnne Strickland On the Cover Process & Giveaway!

Today's guest for the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) is AdriAnne Strickland, 2014 debut author of WORDLESS, coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux. AdriAnne is also giving away a Flux title... scroll down for the Rafflecopter!


In Eden City, the Wordless, or illiterate poor, would never even dream of meeting one of the all-powerful Words who run the city-state. Much less running away with one.

When a drop-dead gorgeous girl literally falls in his lap during his routine trash run, seventeen-year-old Tavin Barnes isn’t sure if it’s the luckiest day of his life, or the beginning of the worst. Because Khaya is also the Word of Life, meaning that she could either heal a wound with a touch or command an ivy bush to devour a city block, depending on her mood. 

By helping Khaya escape the seemingly idyllic confines of Eden City into Europe beyond, Tavin unwittingly throws himself into the heart of a conflict that is threatening to tear the city apart… if not the world. Eden City’s elite will stop at nothing to protect the shocking secret Khaya hides, and enlists the help of the other Words, each with their own frightening powers—like the ability to spark a fire, raise a flood, or kill with a touch—to bring her back.

To survive, Tavin must confront the mysteries of his past… and risk sacrificing what he cares about most

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Like quite a few people, I had at least a vague idea—somewhat dark, no pink or purple, sleek and suggestive of the speculative-fiction nature of the story, no characters’ faces revealed. And then I came up with a couple of specific ideas that ended up being nothing like the cover I have now.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

Well-over a year beforehand. WORDLESS is slated to release August 8th, 2014, and my awesome editor, Brian Farrey-Latz, broached the topic of covers in April 2013. But then, I was set to vanish to do the random commercial-fishing-in-Alaska-thing that I do every summer, so he wanted to talk to me about it before I fell off the edge of the earth for a few months.

Did you have any input on your cover?

Sort of—Brian certainly asked my in-depth opinion, and we were actually on the same page for much this conversation. But in the end, it’s up to the publishing team.

See, before I even showed Brian the dorky cover I made myself in MS Word (and I wouldn’t have, had he never said this), he told me during our brainstorming session: “One thought was a field of letters (almost like a search-a-word puzzle) with the title and your name bolded. It’s an OK idea… it could end up really cool or really meh.” And so I sent him this:


To his credit, he didn’t laugh at me, but perhaps I uninspired that idea right out of him. No, in all seriousness, we also came up with some other ideas, involving a shadowy silhouette of the main character being cast by the block letters “WORDLESS.” 

But Brian said anything they tried along either of those lines ended up looking too contemporary. So the team went with something completely different that I didn’t see until it was already done and decided. Good thing I loved it.

How was your cover revealed to you?

My editor sent it to me through email. I couldn’t open the darn thing fast enough, and then I proceeded to carry around my laptop for the rest of the day, staring at it.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Yes, through YABC on October 3rd!

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

A couple of months. It was torture.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

(See previous answer.) Kidding. It was a bit difficult, but I “cheated” and showed close family and friends, and also the OneFours on our private forum, so that made it feel less like I was trying to contain a crazed cat inside my chest.

What surprised you most about the process?

That even though my cover didn’t turn out anything at all like I’d imagined (and I have a really active imagination—I was already signing imaginary books with this imaginary cover in my head), I still love it.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Try to trust your publisher. And even after you see your cover, sleep on your immediate opinions… or at least give it a little time. Because here’s how my reaction went:

One second: WHAT?!?
Five seconds: WTF, they didn’t listen to ANY of my suggestions!
Thirty seconds: It’s so… so… GREEN!
One minute: Not sure how I feel about this…
Three minutes: Wow, look at the crazy tendrils of energy, and the combo of metallic and organic in the title font, and the title echoing across the whole thing, almost disintegrating, and the marquee-like style of my name, and…
Five minutes: LOVE.

Much like in relationships (and in my book, thank goodness), love doesn’t always come at first sight. Sometimes it takes a whole five minutes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Wait For the New Year?

It's mid-November, which means we're looking at a long stretch of good food and lack of self-control. Everyone knows that starting a diet right now is begging for failure, and so a lot of us just cave to the inevitable, gorging on pies and cookies, cheese ball and turkey, because hey... we'll take care of that in the New Year.

Cheers.

But... here's the thing - so is everyone else. Go to any gym in January and you'll find a lot of huffy, sweating people who I'll bet have very shiny, very new membership cards... and I doubt they fly out of the purse or wallet much past February. We're all guilty of those front-loaded good intentions that wither away when we discover they're actually, you know - work.

The same applies to your writing. So maybe you told yourself it's too late to hop on Nano, or maybe you started out Nano with a bang that withered away into a low word count. Now shopping lists are staring you in the face and people want to come stay at your house. So screw it. Why even try? That shiny New Year's resolution will make everything better - and this year will be the year you stick to it.

Right?

Except, much like the gym, a lot of other people are making that same resolution. And while in the gym all this means is that there's a longer wait for the elliptical and more of a permeable musk in the air, but with the publishing industry it means that agent's inboxes are fuller than usual. And that can mean two things - either one of these queries is a similar concept to yours and beat you to the dream agent, or all those queries are horrible and the agent is disenchanted with these reborn resolution queriers by the time s/he gets to you.

So measure up, and ask yourself - is my life really going to be that much better in January? Less busy? Will I really feel more inclined to take my writing seriously just because an electric ball hit a platform with numbers on it in Times Square? I doubt it, so call today January 1 and polish that query, or finish that manuscript now, before the hordes beat you to it.

Oh, and go to the gym too. You'll feel better.

Saturday, November 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.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. For you and I, that’s a fact. For Evyn Elliot, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Fantastic hook. Dead on.

Evyn has Cognadjivisibilitis (CAV for short), and it’s never been a major problem- until now. Really? I get that puberty would bring new and more horrific issues, but it seems like it would be a problem before this. The disease causes the names people call her, both positive and negative, to appear on her body and stick like mini tattoos. And even worse than being forced to wear the awkward tattoos she never wanted, the negative words cause physical pain. Isn’t sixth grade painful enough as it is? This is a fascinating concept and the idea of entering middle school with this condition is terrifying. However, this para needs a little re-arranging. I'd scratch the idea of it not being an issue previously (not relevant to your story), explain the disease first, and get rid of your echoes - tattoo, pain.

Thanks to a psychotic teacher, a backstabbing best friend and a big dumb guy she unfortunately kind of loves, Evyn’s self-confidence is seriously shaken for the first time in her life, and the names she calls herself are just as dangerous as the ones she’s called by others. Bit of a run-on here, but I love the voice. But what if she could change? With the help of some mysterious notes, Evyn takes the plunge to become someone else, someone normal. I'm curious how this would be accomplished... a little more detail here. But just as she starts to succeed, she learns that the writer of the mystery notes may not really have her best interest at heart.

Complete at 45,000 words, STICKS AND STONES is a stand-alone upper Middle Grade novel with series potential. This novel will appeal to readers of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Lauren Myracle’s The Winnie Years series and Wendy Mass’s A Mango Shaped Space. Great comp titles, well done!

I live in Chicago and work as a K-8 Library Media Specialist. This my first novel. Librarian solidarity! Great bio para here that shows you know your audience and your market.

You've got a fantastic concept and a query with voice, along with a strong reason for you to be the person to write it and dead-on comp titles. You just need a little scraping off of some echoes and some slight re-arranging and you are ready to go!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday Book Talk: ASYLUM ON THE HILL by Katherine Ziff

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

ASYLUM ON THE HILL: HISTORY OF A HEALING LANDSCAPE by Katherine Ziff explores the past of a piece of Ohio history - the Athens Insane Asylum, popularly called the Ridges. Built during a revolutionary period in the treatment of the insane, the Kirkbride architecture was designed with the health of the patients in mind. Beautiful views, no fences, and zero locks on doors made the patients feel more like people and less like prisoners.

The moral treatment at the heyday of the asylum focused on exercise, independence, and duties such as gardening, baking, sewing and other activities in order to give the patients a sense of purpose. As their productivity increased, the asylum was able to produce most of their own food, and make their own clothes, even selling excess in the town below. 

But as patient intake increased and loss of funds meant less staff, living conditions began to decline. In the 1900's the courts ruled that the patients should not be performing jobs without pay, and without the the funds to pay the patients for their work they sat, bored and listless, mentally declining.

The asylum officially closed its doors in 1993. The site and buildings are now owned by Ohio University. The administration building now houses an art museum, and many of the structures have been renovated for office space.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Abraham Lincoln was scary looking. Like, more than you actually realize. Our brain automatically looks at him and says, "Abraham Lincoln" which autofills with respect and recognition. But if his face totally catches you by surprise sometime, before your brain catches up to the fact that it's Abraham Lincoln you go, "WTF IS GOING ON WITH THAT FACE?!?!"

2) I have other names for people that I use in my head. As I get older their real names are slipping away from me, and this is going to be really embarrassing someday.

3) Glitter is weird. Wikipedia defines it as "flat multi-layered sheets that are produced by combining plastic, coloring, and reflective material such as aluminum, titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and bismuth oxychloride." So basically it's chemicals. Shiny, pretty, chemicals.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

Earlier this week I tweeted about the fact that I think word bucolic sounds like a bad nasty disease, but it actually means something quite nice. For those of you who don't know, it means of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life. noun. 3. a pastoral poem. 4. Archaic. a farmer; shepherd; rustic.

So how did we get such a gross word for something awesome?

Bucolic is from the Greek boukolos, which means herdsman.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Cover Conversation with Cristin Terrill, Author of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS

Today's guest for the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) is Cristin Terrill, fellow Class of 2k13 member and author of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS.


"You have to kill him." Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside. 

Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was. 

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

None! I did for novels I wrote before All Our Yesterdays, but for some reason I would always draw a blank with this story whenever anyone asked me. Ultimately I think that was for the best, though. 

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

My editor told me about some ideas she had for the cover very early on, just a month or two after the book was acquired. But the serious discussions and comp process didn’t start for another six months or so. 

Did you have any input on your cover?

We went through lots and lots of concepts and cover comps. We probably went through a dozen ideas before we landed on the cover that appears on the ARC of the book, and then that cover was rejected by Barnes and Noble, so we went back to the drawing board. 

All in all, I probably saw at least thirty different concepts over a span of seven or eight months, and Hyperion was great about asking for my opinion along the way and incorporating lots of the changes I asked for at different points in the process. I still really love some of those covers we ultimately didn’t go with.

How was your cover revealed to you?

After many, many months and a zillion different comps, I got an email from my editor saying that they had a completely new cover based on a totally different concept than anything they’d tried before and that the team at Disney was convinced this was finally the one. I thought they were working on something totally different, but the clock cover had snuck in and surprised everyone. Supposedly when they revealed it at the sales meeting, everyone gasped.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

It had been decided that Hyperion would reveal my cover during a panel at BEA, and we were scrambling right up until the last minute to get it finished in time. 

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

Not very! I saw the final cover for the first time about fourteen hours before it was revealed at BEA.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Haha, no. Especially because I was asleep for most of those fourteen hours. 

What surprised you most about the process?

How difficult it was. I obviously had a particularly troubled cover journey, and I never could have imagined it would take so long or be so stressful and emotionally draining. But I’m so grateful that Hyperion continued to push for a something they thought would be really great instead of giving up and settling for something just okay when the process got tough.

You’ve got international editions coming out. Tell us about your foreign covers.

Seeing the foreign covers starting to come in has been so much fun for me, because they’re all wildly different and seem to want to emphasize different aspects of the story. Here are the have covers for the UK, Dutch (I Am Not Me), and Bulgarian editions. And the German cover, which I adore and can’t wait to see in person, was just released last week. This is Time Splitter:





Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Just try to let go! It really is completely out of your control, so do your best not to stress over it. Indulge freely in your vice of choice if necessary.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blogging Is Dead

That's the word on the street, anyway.

It used to be the first question that came up when social media was mentioned - do you have a blog? Now I'm asked more often if I have a Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook... although I'll add that the latter is quickly falling off the inquiry list.

The answer is yes, I do. I have all of them. I also have a YouTube channel, Pinterest, G+, Instagram and even a LinkedIn. Sure, a couple of those are virtual cemeteries when it comes to traffic, but because they exist, I have one. Some are more work than others, some are easily fed by content from each other, and some I can get lost in for hours looking at videos of cats.

But the blog? This blog - the one you're reading right now.

This is work. Real work. This is me talking to you about writing life on Mondays, sharing how other authors achieved their success on Tuesdays, diving into etymology on Wednesdays, taking a little tour of my head on Thursdays, doing a virtual librarian book talk on Fridays, and offering up query critiques on Saturdays.

And everyone says it's dead. They say no one reads blogs anymore because it's easier to look at gifs and easily digestible 140 characters of wisdom than read a whole paragraph. For the most part, I am seeing this pan out in the numbers. The group blogs that I contribute to are seeing less traffic and comments have nose-dived everywhere. Interaction is a thing of the past and even giveaways aren't pulling in the clicks like they used to.

So this makes me sad, because I like blogging. I'm one of those people that does it because I enjoy it, not because I have massive amounts of followers or because my traffic consistently has four digit hits daily. It doesn't. In fact,  if I told you what my average traffic is like you would advise me to stop wasting my time.

And maybe I should. But I'm not going to, and I'll tell you why. Underneath my snail-house exterior I'm a complete softie for those people who come up to me at book fairs and signings to tell me how much they like my blog. If you ever see me and you feel the same way, say so, and you'll get to see a real smile - one that doesn't flash out that often. The one that pushes my cheeks up so far that my eyes practically close.

That's because this blog is work, like I said, but it's a work of the heart. My novels are too, and I'll gladly accept compliments on those as well. But if I'm being totally honest I write my novels for me, and I blog for you.

So tell me that it means something to you, and you'll make my day.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I tweeted about this yesterday, but it's still on my mind. Kissing is weird. It goes, "I like you. I'm going to put my mouth on your mouth. Hold still." Seriously - who had this idea in the first place??! It's unnatural. This is why I don't write romance.

2) All the tension and connection and intentions are in our eyes anyway. Honestly it would make more sense to rub eyeballs.

3) So if you follow my Twitter you know I've had a really serious middle ear infection lately, that has had me looking at ear diagrams. The human ear is one effed up thing. Seriously. If you took it out of the body you wouldn't know what it was. Like if you were walking the woods and there was an eyeball on the ground, stalk and all, you'd still be like, "Oh look, an eyeball." If you were walking in the woods and came across an ear you'd be like, "What is this alien snail baby??!?!"





Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday WOLF

I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications. I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF (oh, how clever is she? She made an acronym out of her agency's name!) Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

We all have one and none of us need it. It's our appendix.

In Latin it means the part that hangs, and it's used in reference to our body part because that particular one kinda hangs out at the end of the large intestine. This is also why that little cross-referencing thing that hangs onto the end of books is called an appendix as well.

So why isn't your palatine uvula called the appendix?

It should be.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An SAT With Alison Gutknecht, MG Author of DON'T WEAR POLKA-DOT UNDERWEAR WITH WHITE PANTS

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Alison Gutknecht, author of the MG title DON'T WEAR POLKA-DOT UNDERWEAR WITH WHITE PANTS (AND OTHER LESSONS I'VE LEARNED) which will be available on November 12th from Aladdin. And on a side note, I have to say this look absolutely hilarious and I'm buying it for my middle school library right now.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I am a planner, but I’m not super-strict about my own plan. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline of a book before I begin it, but the outline only consists of one-sentence summaries per chapter. This way, I know what I have to accomplish in the chapter before I sit down to write it, but if the outcome turns out differently, that’s okay.

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

When I’m working on something, I write a chapter a day until I finish a first draft, which I then revise at least five times on my own. I’ve completed all first drafts within a month, but the revision process can vary widely in terms of timing – anywhere from another couple of weeks to months or even years if I end up placing the manuscript on the backburner for a while.  

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

One at a time, if left to my own devices. I like to finish something completely before moving on.

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

There is a lyric from Sunday in the Park with George which I love: “Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see.” I think it’s important to remember whenever you start something new that you are the only one on the planet who can tell the story in your particular way.  Stop agonizing over the result and just write it, and then, make it the best that you possibly can. Because the writing itself is the only part of the process that is unequivocally yours to control.

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

None which I would have considered trying to get published.

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

I’ve never quit on a first draft, but I’ve sometimes put aside second or third drafts if I didn’t feel that they were getting better with the subsequent revisions. Sometimes a little distance from the piece can eventually show you how to “fix” it.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

Charlie Olsen from InkWell Management is my agent, and I found him the old-fashioned way: cold querying. I had actually queried another agent at InkWell, who passed my submission onto Charlie, and I am forever grateful that she did!

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I had been querying for about three months before signing with Charlie.

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

I think it’s important to remember, no matter where you are in the writing process, that you just have to keep going. Anytime I received a rejection on a query, I would wallow for about one minute, and then I would send out another one. A quote that I found heartening at the time is “Don’t be discouraged, it’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Don’t Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants (and Other Lessons I’ve Learned) doesn’t hit the shelves until November 12th, so I haven’t seen it physically on sale yet. But few things have made me happier in the past couple of weeks than receiving “reviews” from young readers at the elementary schools I’ll be visiting, who have received preview copies of the book. Their comments all help to remind me why I wanted to write for kids in the first place.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Simon and Schuster chose the illustrator for the series, Stevie Lewis, and she has done an amazing job at capturing the spirit of Mandy Berr, both on the cover and in the chapter illustrations. I was asked for my opinion on the cover, but thankfully, I was pretty happy with the polka-dot underwear peeking through the white pants from day one!  

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

I think that especially when you write books for kids, there is a certain “mystique” around the authors who you yourself loved growing up, and this idolization is something which you never quite get over. So when you grow up and you see the passion that these authors, along with all of the behind-the-scenes people who had worked on their books with them, have for their work, it makes you realize exactly why you were so passionate about their books as a child, and why you care so much about writing today.

How much of your own marketing do you? 

I have my own website, along with a Facebook author page and a Twitter. Also, months before my publication date, I began reaching out to local papers in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area, which is where I grew up, along with arranging various school visits and two book launch parties in both New York City (where I live now) and in Philadelphia. I tried to get a head-start on as much as possible, because book releases are stressful enough without having to scramble with logistics at the last minute!

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

I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I did not create a public website, Twitter, Facebook, etc. until after I had a book deal, but I already knew how to use the social media sites, which at least made the learning curve a little less steep.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It probably depends on who your target audience is. For the most part, young elementary school students are not on social media sites regularly, but their parents are. But in general, I think everyone needs to do what they’re comfortable with, because any sort of promotion only works if it is something you truly want to be doing – that’s the only way it will come across as genuine.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why I Don't Have Heroes & How It Affects My Writing

Who is your hero?

I hate that question. I've always hated that question. Call it a knee-jerk reaction or a chronic inability to recognize that someone else might be better at something that I am, but in the end I have a really good reason for hating the question. And I've just lately figured out what that is.

People start asking you that when you're really young, before we even have a real concept of what a hero is. In school people would give what I felt were slightly ridiculous answers like NASCAR drivers, athletes, pop stars, or whoever happened to be on the cover of People at the time.

Most of those heroes aren't in the limelight anymore, having fallen out because of some dirty doings on the side or a nasty past slid under the rug, depraved relatives, bad dating choices, or drunk driving issues. And once those things are out there our heroes lose their luster, even if it has nothing to do with the quality that drew us to them in the first place.

The problem with labeling another person a hero is that it turns that person into a idealized version of whatever aspect of them you found attractive in the first place, a symbol for that quality. But the thing is, heroes are just regular human beings and like the rest of us they have some character traits that are less than awesome.

Yes, it's a pretty jaded view of humanity, but in the end it's realistic and helpful in my writing. My heroes and heroines are regular people that have good qualities and bad qualities. You're never going to find a perfect person in my books, because perfect people don't exist.

For fun, I want you to think about the people who were your heroes when you were younger, and if those people still exemplify the qualities that drew you to them in the first place.

Unless of course, you took the easy route in school and said that your hero was your mom.

Of course she was, she should be.