Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Talk: THE GREAT DEATH by John Smelcer

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.

Sisters Millie and Maura are the only ones to survive when their Alaskan village is visited by white men who bring with them a camera, a notebook, and the pox in 1917. Young and alone with the worst of winter coming on, they travel downriver taking with them only what their small backs can carry. Each village they come to is the same - empty, except for the dogs who are eating the dead.

The girls use what their parents have taught them to face dangers from the weather, wild animals, and strangers in the woods. With only each other to depend on they keep going, despite the fear that they may be on the only people left alive in a world filling with snow.



Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) Why is a mouse hole characterized as an upside-down "U" shape? This is the classic representation of a mouse hole, yet looks nothing like an actual mouse hole.

2) Same vein: Why is a heart represented the way it is, when the human heart looks nothing like that?

3) I'd love to see a new line of Valentine's Day wear from Victoria's Secret with actual representations of the human heart embroidered in pink and red, all sexy like. I'd wear it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Self-Pub Success Story With Jennifer Prescott, Author of THE HUNDRED: FALL OF THE WENTS

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Jennifer Prescott, author of THE HUNDRED: FALL OF THE WENTS. Jennifer has written everything from satire to humorous YA to literary short stories, but is assiduously attempting not to jump genres in an effort to finish her middle-grade trilogy.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I am an unadulterated Pantser, although I think we need a fresh term. How about Reckless Fool? For me, the story grows up organically, root by shoot, and every fresh growth surprises me (much as I hope the reader will be surprised). That said, with The Hundred I wrote the climactic chapter, which takes place at the cliff’s edge by the sea, very early on in the process. And a big plot twist is revealed here. I couldn’t fathom at first how I was going to find my way from point A to point B, with 20 chapters to go in between.

Once, as an experiment, I wrote a query for a novel before I’d written the novel. So I’m not immune to a bit of planning. I wish I were better at it. I’d probably avoid more ripping of threads and painful restitching.

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

If I’m working assiduously, I would say a full year. I have a full-time job and three boys so the only time I have to write is in the evenings. The Hundred took me more than five years to complete. I have jottings from at least seven years ago that formed the seed of the novel. 

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

I’m a multi-tasker, although I’m trying to arrest this tendency. At one time I was working simultaneously on a comedic memoir about panic disorder, a madcap YA about a pimply teen’s adventures in space, and a literary mystery about a canoe trip in Maine. I’m a genre-jumper. I’ll probably need about eight pen names. 

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

I’ve been writing as long as I can remember; it’s in my blood. So I’m not afraid of writing pure crap any more, because I’ve churned out pages of it. I used to be afraid. The things I feared most were: 1) Not writing due to Writer’s Block and dying a lonely death because of it 2) Forgetting something. But the subconscious never forgets. It weaves in the most insignificant sensory moment from 15 years ago, seamlessly, into today’s sentence. Especially if you once took the time to once write it down. 

Writing is like falling into a dream where you are home again. It’s not writing that’s scary—when you avoid the laptop and wander around tidying the house. 

How many trunked books do you have?

None. I refused to trunk this book. But I have numerous trunked short stories and other wretched bits of prose languishing in my attic. I even have some ghastly poems.

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

I quit on a screenplay a few years back. Yes, I write those too! I’ve completed two, with a few others dormant. Screenplays are NOT GOOD for Pantsers. You really, really need an outline for a screenplay. They are hideously tough structurally. I knew it was time to bag it after the file was labeled something like “Screenplayv45aNEW_NewVersion_THISTIMEFORREAL.doc.”

Do you have an agent?

Nope. I am a lone wolf. I stopped waiting for affirmation from someone and gave myself my own Yes. It’s been a challenge, but kids and adults who I don’t know are reading my book. I get reports from across the country about a child devouring the story of Tully, Copernicus, and Aarvord after lights out, and I feel a surge of happiness. Maybe one day it will take off like wildfire. Maybe not. But it’s out there. There are some regrets. I have seen the effort that agents and publishers put forth for their authors. For example, to be considered for an Indie Kirkus Review you must pay at least $425. Really? I don’t have $425 to spare and it seems smarmy. But I also don’t have the Kirkus seal of approval.

How long were you querying?  

I’ll answer this another way—how many times did I query before deciding to go Indie? According to Querytracker, I sent 81 queries for this book. 26 of those requested manuscripts. The rest of them said “No, thank you” or never responded. Of the 26, 22 declined (whilst comparing me to writers like Phillip Pullman, telling me I was at the forefront of something “new,” and saying how innovative and magical I was but…Not Right For List!) Believe it or not, four agents still have the manuscript. They held onto it for two years or more. I nudged. I got bored. It seemed rude, after a while. During the time I spent querying, I could have written another book. I realize I had pretty good stats. “The One” could have been just around the corner. 

But, I think when you do something that’s out of the norm it takes a unique person to take a risk. The Hundred doesn’t fit neatly into any category. There are no dragons and no elves. No vampires. No unicorns.  I invented just about every creature in the story, excluding a little snake and two human children. It’s its own blend of fantasy, sci fi, magic, and time travel—and I think genre blending and bending worries some people who want an easy label. It doesn’t seem to worry kids, though. I wrote this book for them, not for the agents. 

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

Querytracker.net is an immensely helpful (and free) resource and also a rather nice community. I made some good pals there! I’ve heard similar praise for Agent Query Connect. 

One tip is to try a completely different query if the one you have is not resonating. I don’t mean just clean it up—try something entirely different. I revised mine from scratch and got about ten immediate requests for The Hundred. I knew, then, that this particular query was a winner. Overall, querying is debilitating and humiliating, with occasional stabs of hope. I will say that none of those wonderfully hopeful moments matched the way I felt when a seventh-grade teacher let me know that two of his students finished the book in one night (500+ pages?!) and begged for the sequel. Or when another teacher, in an underserved school in the Bronx, passed print copies to three of her students and one said, “When I started reading this I almost had a heart attack, it was so good.” That’s gold. I did something right. 

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

I handed the book to my 10-year-old son, who had read it prior to publication, and said, “I did it.” It was a rough proof copy that I was about to savagely dog-ear and proofread, and it felt heavy and proper. I had granted my book a spine, a book that was a haphazard stack of printed pages. I know that’s not “for sale” but that’s when it was real to me. If I one day see it in an actual bookstore I think I’ll get a nice jolt of electricity. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Complete input from start to finish. I had two talented design professionals create my cover, but I was able to give them a lot of guidance and feedback. I even researched and found all the bees that are used on the cover—public domain and free of charge! That said, the result is something I never pictured when I was just imagining it in my mind. The designers were able to take a beginning concept to the next level and surprise me.

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

I should have known, but I learned very quickly that independent booksellers want nothing to do with Amazon-created products. I used CreateSpace, which makes things incredibly easy and affordable for writers, but it is pure poison for the indie bookstore. They Hate Amazon. Don’t kid yourself that your local bookstore will want to host an author reading with you with tea and cakes and that they will stock their shelves with acres of your new book. No, they will not, unless the owner is your sister. I have heard that Lightning Source may be a less offensive service. Don’t know ‘em, haven’t dealt with ‘em. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

All of it, although I do have some very energetic friends who make it their business to pass out bookmarks at the gym and call the local libraries to insist they carry my book. These people are amazing. I myself have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and am on Goodreads.

I also have a blog for my other “personas.” It’s a little more edgy. Note from Mindy: Also, frickin' hilarious. The Feral Pony makes me feel dull and boring next to her wit.

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

I’m really torn about “platform,” especially for a fiction writer. Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur suggests that an indie author should dedicate months to building a solid presence before publication. It’s not very different for traditionally-published authors. I’ve heard numerous times from my traditionally-pubbed friends that they have to do a great deal of their own marketing. That said, the whole business of “platform” is somewhat abhorrent. Did Emily Dickinson have a platform? If I am literally constructing something on which the trust of my readers is to be based, would I rather stand atop a slew of inane tweets or a stack of great stories? Unless your platform-building is incredibly useful and clever, stop exhausting yourself. Just write good stories. Here's a recent post on this topic.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Yes, despite what I said above! 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Then Life Got Interesting

I am a princess in a castle. It's true.

Granted, this princess hasn't shaved in a while and I won't be tossing my tresses out the window for anybody to climb because they're a touch greasy at the moment and that would be embarrassing. And this is exactly what isolation does for your social concerns. It doesn't matter what I look like, because nobody has seen me for four days and it looks like I'll be adding another two to the calendar.

Extreme temperatures and some seriously high wind have turned Ohio into a bit of a tundra and the road where I live isn't exactly a high priority. So, I'm pretty stuck. My dad can't even come plow me out himself with the tractor because the fuel is gelled up. Yes, it's that cold. They're saying wind chills could get as low as -40 tomorrow, and it doesn't matter whether I mean Fahrenheit or Celsius because at that level of cold it's the same thing. Yes, really. Science, you know.

Last night I was awake when the front blew in at 1:30 (mostly because sleep patterns mean nothing when you're a hermit) and it came rolling in at about 50 mph. I have a two story house and I felt it shift. Not the first time I've felt that, but it's still pretty remarkable when your bed moves ever so slightly because of something going on outside.

So what am I doing?

I've produced all the extra content that will be in the paperback of NOT A DROP TO DRINK when it releases in August, I've tacked quite a few thousand words onto the WIP. I've re-watched all of Sherlock, caught up with American Horror Story, tuned in to Downton Abbey and watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And then because apparently I'm a misplaced Brit I read the first half of THE HOBBIT and some Anthony Trollope. I caught myself speaking with an accent the other day.

Don't ask who I'm talking to.

Today... well, today I'm thinking about teaching myself how to play bridge. It's something I've always wanted to do and I guess I've got the time.

If you see me on Twitter have pity on me and talk to me.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

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.

It’s been seven years since the world was attacked, five since humanity was forced underground, and approximately one minute since Bem Benson found a reason to do something about it. Love the hook. It's well written and raises questions that are intriguing as opposed to just leading and / or confusing. 

Bem is eight years old when the Namante - shape shifting creatures who would be indistinguishable from humans if not for their glowing, silver eyes - attack.  I know you're trying to use space wisely but you can bring this description down even further, "Humanoid shape-shifters with luminous eyes" - or something like that. It's not necessarily bad as it stands, just awkward. You don't want to lose them after that great hook. After the resulting war, sheltered Bem is left orphaned and homeless. With only his older, stronger best friend Leo for protection, he joins the other surviving humans in hiding. I think you need to explain why they hide underground. Too weak and clumsy to be of any good, Bem is forbidden to leave the hideout and passes years as housekeeper while the others risk their lives monthly strike "monthly" to gather food and supplies. When a new arrival gains the affection of all, Bem becomes desperate enough to risk an expedition aboveground unclear on why the new arrival would be what makes Bem decide to go aboveground, where a black market of life-saving supplies and information exists despite the Namante takeover. He fails, miserably, and sets off a series of events that bring the Namante to the hideout’s doorsteps. Leo and the others are taken.

Bem sets out with one thing in mind: to find Leo. Things are complicated when he meets Tully, a suspiciously human-like Namante with an agenda of her own which is what? He shares a powerful secret definitely share what the secret is, a query isn't the place to tease in exchange for guidance on his quest and together they fight their way through a war-torn planet to accomplish their goals. Far too late, they realize just how different their goals really are. Forced to choose between protecting the last of his kind this hints that Bem is something other than human. If that's the case, that's a big plot point and needs extrapolated on or saving Leo, Bem has to feign courage to survive in a world where humanity is under attack.

AFTER THE SILVER EYES is a 60,000 word YA/Urban Fantasy. It will appeal to fans of the dynamic characters of DIVERGENT.

Overall this is a well-written query, but you're spending too much time on the backstory. The last paragraph is where your plot actually comes in - an odd friendship, a secret, an alien with an agenda... this sounds like it's actually the meat of your book but you're only hinting at it. Your middle para needs weeded down, your last one needs meated up. Other than that, your hook is superb and it looks like you've got the query-writing skill to get this into good shape.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Talk: CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge

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.

Nyx has spent her entire life preparing herself to die. As the leader of the Resugandi, a group dedicated to bringing down the misnamed Gentle Lord who reigns over Arcadia, her father should've known better than to try to make a deal with the devil when his wife couldn't bear children. But desperate people grasp at straws, and the twin daughters were born - bringing abut the death of their mother. As usual, the Gentle Lord's bargains are never quite what the petitioner was hoping for.

The price of the children was that one would have to become the Gentle Lord's wife in time, and Nyx was chosen for that honor. All her life she is trained to beguile him, then assassinate him to free their land, avenge her mother, and redeem her father's ill-advised bargain. But the Gentle Lord's death comes at a price, for the only way to bring him down is to destroy the four Hermetic hearts hidden inside his castle, bringing down the entire structure on top of him... and herself.

Leaving behind her distant father and a sister she's always tried to convince herself she loves even though she was chosen to live, Nyx comes to the Gentle Lord on their wedding night to find him not at all what she'd expected. Clever but not unkind, Ignifex captures Nyx's attention in a way she never thought possible. But so does his shadow, a being in itself named Shade, who might be the answer to how Nyx can save Arcadia. But saving Arcadia will mean killing her husband, who she has accidentally fallen in love with.

There's an ARC giveaway right now for CRUEL BEAUTY, if this piques your interest!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Cover of STITCHING SNOW by RC Lewis!!

So, finally, I get to return some of the amazing support that my longtime CP and friend RC Lewis has given me as we both climb this crazy debut publishing ladder. Today, the cover of her debut STITCHING SNOW revealed on the YABC blog. I'm reposting here just so you can revel in it's glory - and it is glorious - but head over to YABC where RC is giving away 2 signed ARCs.

And yes, what's behind the cover is equally as awesome.


Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) How is insurance not a form of gambling? I mean, really?

2) I feel like the return of the phrase, "No shit, Sherlock," is long overdue, and am in fact kind of surprised it hasn't already reared it's head.

3) I persist in shaving in this weather, and really I have no idea why. We're living in a new Ice Age. Nobody cares what my legs look like, and furthermore, nobody is going to be seeing them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Agent / Cat Chat with Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates

A new BBCHAT awaits you! 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 Hannah Bowman. Hannah joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books.

Hannah's clients include:
-Pierce Brown (RED RISING trilogy, Del Rey, Feb. 2014)
-Rosamund Hodge (CRUEL BEAUTY, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 2014)
-Brian Staveley (THE EMPEROR'S BLADES, Tor, Jan. 2014)
-Dianna Anderson (DAMAGED GOODS: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON CHRISTIAN PURITY, Jericho Books, Spring 2015)

Hannah specializes in commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, young adult fiction, women's fiction, cozy mysteries, and romance. Hannah is also interested in nonfiction, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and religion (especially history and sociology of Christianity).

What are you reading right now and why do you like it? 

I’m reading SKINNY by Donna Cooner. It’s a YA contemporary, but I love the way she uses repeated fun details to develop the voice and structure: so, for example, the story has resonances with Cinderella, the main character structures her journey around her playlist of show tunes, the voice in her head is treated as a character in a way that’s almost magical-realism. There are a lot of fascinating things going on in the writing!

Paper or plastic? (a book or an e-reader?) 

Both. For new fiction, I buy mostly ebooks, especially because I often impulsively buy things when they are Daily Deals and read them in the Kindle app on my phone. I love having ebooks on my phone because I’m never without something to read.

However, my husband and I also have a major used-book addiction, so we have thousands of paper books in our house as well! 

I’ve found that the format is completely irrelevant to me – once I’m taken in by a story, I don’t even notice whether I’m reading it in a Word document, on my Nook, on my phone, or on paper!

What's on your bucket list? 

I want to travel north of the Arctic circle at Midsummer and see the midnight sun. I actually have a whole trip planned in my head, starting in Scotland, taking a boat across to Norway, and traveling across Scandinavia to end in St. Petersburg. Someday!

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

No. I haven’t even worked up the courage to go skiing yet!

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

I adore science fiction that has the aspirational feel of the Golden-age/space-age classics like Heinlein and Asimov but a more progressive social stance and a fresh voice or angle. I find epic/ high/ secondworld fantasy intensely comforting, the kind of story I always want to curl up with on a winter day in the reading chair in my library. And I’m always looking for a great girl-power YA fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce.

Lastly, Hannah has provided three facts about herself... except one of them is a lie. Vote for the lie in the Rafflecopter below and the winner will receive an ARC of RED RISING by Pierce Brown, a lucky writer who can call himself Hannah's client!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Neverending Problem of Being A Reader & A Writer

It sucks.

I hate living so vividly in my own head that sometimes I can't pull myself out of it in order to function in reality. A great example would be this morning when I drove 45 minutes to an appointment at 8 AM that was actually scheduled for 1 PM. Yeah. Oops.

Actually I take that back, I love living vividly in my own head. It's a glorious thing and a wonderful escape. What I dislike about it is when someone else's vision is crowding mine for space - because I'm a reader as well as a writer.

Normally I try not to read fiction at all while I'm writing in order to avoid what I call voice bleeding -accidentally grafting the voice of your read onto your ms - but this week as I recover from eye surgery, I thought it might be safe to read a little with my one good eye and let my own story just stew a bit.

Kind of a mistake. I picked up an ARC of Rosamund Hodge's CRUEL BEAUTY and now it's living in my head, taking up the space that is supposed to be reserved for my WIP. If you follow my Twitter stream you know that my reading lamp went out the other night and I didn't have replacement bulbs, but I wasn't done reading. 

So I put on my headlamp.

I'm sure somewhere there's someone who thinks a girl in surgery googles and a headlamp is attractive, and if you find him, let me know. I've got a great selfie for him.

I won't say anything more about CRUEL BEAUTY other than I need to finish it and get it away from me so I can retire back into my own mind, and bite all the shiny ARCS when they try to tempt me from now on.

It's an excellent book. Here, find out for yourself.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

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.

In a time where there are two subspecies of humanity—Hybrids and non-Hybrids—17-year-old Ada knows she's the girl-in-between. Decent hook, I'm curious what these two types are and how she's not either. She doesn't have the preternatural agility or intellect she's been told the Hybrids have. And while she doesn't consider herself to be that pathetic, pathetic how-so? are they simple regular humans like us? Or are they incapable in some ways? like the non-Hybrids that run her village, she knows she's a long shot from being a member of the elite. You might want to be careful with wording, b/c if you're trying to say "elite" and "Hybrid" are the same thing it could get a tad confusing. The Non-Hybrids can't be completely insipid b/c they run a village. But with her friend Zeran already showing the potential to be classified as a Hybrid, she fights to excel in her upcoming tests for genetic classification. Because becoming one not only means seeing him again—but a chance to meet her Hybrid parents for the first time. Couple of questions raised here - if he is her friend then we assume she sees him on a semi-regular basis already. If Hybrids and non-Hybrids are kept separate after being classified you should rephrase the "seeing him again" line, because as of right now it just sounds like she'll see him again at the tests, which as I said, shouldn't be such a huge deal since we assume they already see each other somewhat regularly. Second question that arises - how does she know her parents are Hybrid? I'd consider working that information into the beginning where she is confused about her origins - like, if she has Hybrid parents, why isn't she smarter / faster / better, etc? And, both of these last sentences imply that the H and non-H's are kept separate but you don't actually say it. You need to be clear on that point.

When a series of mental, physical, and (of course) deadly I think you should rephrase to "potentially" deadly, because if all of them were flat deadly, all participants would be dead. tests prove she is a Hybrid, Ada is thrilled—until she learns her suspicions have been true. She is intermediately unique, having their DNA but lacking the potential to fully sustain herself with no sleep or nourishment, or effortlessly contribute to the harsh intellectual demands of their society. This sentence is a little convoluted at the end, I'd rephrase. When her father casts her off? as worthless to humanity, Ada is distraught. She disappears off I'd curt "off" here into the night with plans to kill herself.

But plans change, I think I need to know why she decides not to kill herself and Ada get lost in the Hollows I wouldn't worry about properly naming the Hollows here, as it only occurs once in the query, simply describe it and kill the dashes for flow—a vast wasteland separating the Hybrid society and the villages—in her pajamas. Thoughts of Zeran drag her from depression, If he is the reason why she decides not to kill herself I think that should be made clear at the beginning of this para and she uses her limited Hybrid abilities to try to survive in a land of man-eaters and deadly dust storms. Fun. I'd kill "fun" it doesn't fit in with the rest of the query voice you have here.

Acquiring the company of a group of non-Hybrids, life becomes possible, but more confusing. Because the group has a goal; make it to the island of refugees alive refugees from what? Are these Hybrid rejects, or just regular Hybrids from her former land?—possibly the only place for her. Ada's problem? It will mean leaving the boy who had always loved her, kill the comma behind forever.

In order for that last bit to pack a punch, we need to know how Z feels about her exile. Did he promise to come for her? Does she believe he's out looking for her? The only thing I know about him right now is his name, I don't know why she would hesitate to leave unless he had made some sort of vow or tried to stop her Exile from happening. Bring some clarity into the query on the points I commented on above, and give us a reason to believe in the relationship. If he's the reason she chose not to kill herself in exile, she must have some hope of them being together - but why? Something he said? Something he did? The query needs more Z in it if this is a star-crossed lover story.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Talk: RUSH by Eve Silver

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.

Miki Jones lives a carefully controlled life. She eats healthy, takes kendo classes, always does her homework, and avoids taking risks following her mother's death. That all changes after school one day when she sees a classmate's deaf younger sister crossing the street into the path of an oncoming truck. She pushes the girl to safety only to be crushed herself. Bloody and dying in the street, Miki feels herself being torn from her body... only to be reborn in a field of grass, surrounded by other teens who tell her she's in "the lobby" and is about to enter "the game."

With no training and an unfamiliar weapon in her hand, Miki enters the world of the Drau - alien beings who are plotting to takeover the Earth in a few short years, unless the human progeny of an alien race the Drau formerly conquered can stop it. With a life con on her arm that shows her health rating and a vague understanding of the carefully constructed points system, Miki survives her first battle only to learn the hard way that if a player's con goes red in the game, they die in real life.

Luka, a friend in real life, and Jackson Tate, the new boy in school, fight beside her. When she returns to reality to find herself whole, Miki has questions - most of which they can't answer. She does know that if she is killed in the game she'll respawn in reality under the wheels of the truck, and die in both worlds. She can be pulled at anytime, with no warning. As the Drau threat escalates and their missions become increasingly hazardous, Miki has to try harder to focus on protecting herself, instead of worrying about Jackson. He's always said they're not a team, and that it's everyone for themselves in The Game. Yet, he always seems to be shielding her from harm...

Enter to win an ARC of RUSH below - the sequel, PUSH, will be available June 10th, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) All of our senses are just big holes in our faces. Except touch. But our skin has a billion little holes in it.

2) There was an anti-stalking campaign this week, which I think is great. However, I also giggled a bit about the fact that in order to stay informed I had to follow them.

3) Whenever I tweet or tumbl someone I feel slightly dirty. Like, in public if you said to someone, "Yeah I tumbled you," or, "I tweeted you," it would be awkward. Also if you said you find yourself constantly pinning them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kate Karyus Quinn & The SNOB - Second Novel Omnipresent Blues

Yes, I figured it was time for another acronymific interview series here on the blog. Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Omnipresent Blues. We all like to hear about the journey to publication, and hopefully other people's success stories help bolster the confidence of those still slogging through the query trenches. But what happens after that first book deal? When the honeymoon is over, you end up back where you were - sitting in front of a blank Word document with shaky hands. Except this time, there are expectations hanging over you.

Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?

Fellow Class of 2k13 member Kate Karyus Quinn is my first volunteer for the SNOB. Kate's debut ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE was one of my favorite reads of 2013, and her upcoming release (DON'T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME, sounds incredible.

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

Yes, it was actually really much more difficult than I thought it would be. One because OMG this was my debut novel! That means that I seeing my book on shelves for the first time(!) and reading reviews for the first time(!) and hyperventilating over all of it for the ninety-ninth time. BUT while all of this was going on, I had to also write a totally separate (stand-alone) novel and even work on edits for this other novel the very same week that my debut novel came out. It was more than just an exercise in time-management (although yes, I could’ve been better with this) but also in mental headspace management. 

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?

Ummm… never? Was I supposed to divert? I sort of see my books as two treadmills sitting side by side. Sometimes I run on one and then hop over to the other. At other times, I try to run with one leg on each treadmill and just hope I don’t faceplant. When it’s time for my third novel… well, I will probably have to change this to a juggling analogy. 

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

Both my debut and second novel are standalones, so while I knew that readers wouldn’t come back expecting the same characters or stories, I did want to be able to offer them a book that had a similar creepy atmosphere, but that was still unique and a fresh reading experience. 

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

Yes, absolutely. I actually quit my day job the same month that my debut novel was released because between promoting Another Little Piece, revising (Don’t You) Forget About Me, and making sure the two kids, two dogs, and husband all got a piece of my time as well – I was just not able to keep up with everything. 

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

I wish I could say that I was so much more confident while writing my second novel, but for some reason this book was just elusive and really hard to pin down from the very first scene I wrote for it. While writing (Don’t You) Forget About Me I often had a feeling like there was something really great here, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. With the help of my amazing editor, Erica Sussman, I finally figured it all out – but it took me a long time to get there and the piece definitely took a lot longer to fall into place than they had with Another Little Piece. Maybe the third or fourth or fifth book is when I’ll start gaining perspective and feeling like “Yes! I really know what I’m doing here.” 

Maybe. 

I’ll let you know. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Goodreads + Pinterest = Riffle

I have a new problem.

Much like a raccoon, I'm attracted to shiny objects. As a librarian I should be able to maintain some form of self-control when I see a pretty book cover. I've been burned enough times in the past to know better, but I still do a fancy-ass Lara Croft swan dive to get to the pretty hardcovers before the next person. Good flap copy helps too, but we're all visual creatures and a good cover is step number one in the love affair that starts when you make eye contact.

And Riffle has romanced me with its layout. When I login and see wall-to-wall shiny book covers that my friends are reading I go a little weak in the knees, spending more time than I should scrolling down, clicking, marking to-read, and then promising myself I'll log out soon. Yes, it's more social media that found a way to tweak my spine, and I think everyone is pretty aware that I have more than one addiction.

To see the book covers laid out like a Pinterest board that I didn't make yet seems to be calling my name, is like walking into a hotel room that inexplicably smells like your own home. I'm ridiculously happy when I'm playing with Riffle, and I don't have a good explanation other than that at heart I'm a baby mammal and this is a colorful, shiny thing.

And lists... oh... my little OCD librarian brain is rejoicing. I honestly scroll through my own lists just to see the books I put there one more time. It's like paging through your old high school yearbooks and being all, "I FORGOT about that thing / time / person!" And then you go all loosey goosey and call your friends and remind them about that thing / time / person. Except in this case it's a book. I'm re-reading like crazy right now, and forcing my friends into books from a few years ago that perhaps didn't float to the top of their TBR at the time.

My poor, long-suffering friends. Trust me. You don't want to know me in real life. I'm a demanding soul-sucker.

I actually found myself making a list of the lists I want to make on Riffle this weekend.

So check it out, you'll thank me. Or you might damn my name. Either way.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

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.

Supply hunter Gorin absolutely despises his life in Middleton, Pennsylvania a hundred years after the plague devastated the world. Your first sentence here is pretty convoluted- you're jamming a lot of information into it and it just muddies the waters and raises questions. Two months from his seventeenth birthday—and certain death thanks to the birth-transmitted disease—his job is to find Valuable Objects and deliver them to his faction home’s leader. I'm definitely intrigued by the idea that their all destined to die on their 17th birthday. This has my attention more than the idea of someone looking for stuff in PA after the end of the world. There's a lot of post-apoc lit out there right now, so put what makes yours different up front. If only he could spend his last days studying those VOs, and just once lay his eyes on The Middleton Rulers’ mysterious mansion before he dies…But no—both are strictly prohibited and punishable by death. Slight question here in that if he's the one who finds the objects, doesn't he have at least a little time to study them before handing them over?

So when Gorin fails to win his last chance like this is something that is available even though it's punishable by death? to go on a tour of the manor, he and his friend Marf sneak a peek at the incredible white-marble building and make a terrifying discovery. The manor has Power, an almighty force that made life way easier back in the Old World. Clearly, the rulers have been lying to the rest of Middleton about their reasons for trying to rediscover the mystical force. And there’s no telling what other vital secrets they’ve also been hiding. Worse yet, Gorin and Marf got caught in the spy act. Now with massive bounties on their heads, they try to break into the heavily guarded mansion to gather evidence of the rulers’ deceit and save everybody in town from their tragically short lives.

I definitely need to know more about what Power is, right now it seems very ephemeral and I'm unsure on how it can save everyone from their short lives, let alone how a simple glance at the building reveals that it has Power. You also make it sound like the Mansion itself is the holder of the Power, not the people within? Also unclear is what Valuable Objects are, exactly, and how they contribute to the Power. Re-read your query as if you didn't know anything about the plot of your own book, and you'll see that a lot of it is veiled.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Book Talk: HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle

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.

Isaac is a Choctaw boy on the Trail of Tears, and he knows before he even sets out that he will not survive the journey. Premonitions of death have been coming ever since the soldiers burned his villa, and he saw the village leaders in flame and ash before the fires had reached them. The warm shivers that ripple through his body warn him when a vision is coming, and he knows that soon he too will be a ghost.

Death comes quickly, and even though he'd warned his family that he would no longer be with them soon, they mourn him as much as possible in the little time allowed before the soldiers push them along. Isaac remains with them, along with legions of ghosts who have been lost along the trail and continue to push on with their tribe and help their loved ones make the treacherous journey.

In death Isaac is reunited with a very young girl who died on a cold night after rolling from her blanket. Though she misses her family, her death lifts a threat from them. Her older sister was taken by the soldiers and held captive and at the beginning of the trek, with the promise that the same fate or worse would befall the younger child if they tried to get her back. Now that she's a ghost, the little girl is free to help rescue her sister, enlisting Isaac's aid and the help of their shape-shifting Choctaw friend who can become a panther at will.

I picked up this book at ALA last winter because I was impressed by the cover. It's a fascinating story of a much-ignored historical event from the eyes of the victims. Enter to win a copy below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I got an awesome post-Christmas present. My dad gave me a sledgehammer yesterday for busting apart the frozen woodpile.

2) First rule of sledgehammers - much like peeling potatoes, do the action AWAY from your body.

3) Second rule of sledgehammers - Don't sing Phil Collins while using it, as it's very distracting to yourself and you may forget rule #1.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Successful Author Talk With Sara B. Larson On The Release Day For DEFY

Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Sara B. Larson whose YA Fantasy, DEFY, releases today from Scholastic. Sara is a mommy of three, lover of chocolate, desserts of all kinds, and Swedish Fish. Also good books.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m somewhere in the middle. When I get an idea for a book, I usually know the beginning and the ending, but I’m not always sure of the middle. I start writing, and just keep going and going, along with a separate document where I jot down notes or ideas for the plot/characters/etc. as I go. That usually lasts until about 15-20k words, and then I usually have to stop and put the rest of the book together in a loose outline. I don’t do a formal chapter by chapter outline (most of the time, though I have done that for a couple of books, too); it’s more of synopsis of sorts, where I just map out where everything is going, until I reach the end. 

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

I’m kind of a freak of nature, because I tend to draft really fast. Most of my books have taken me between 4-8 weeks to write. A couple were shorter and a few were longer. Basically, I get obsessive with my story once I hit a certain point and I can’t think about anything else until the story is out. Since that leads to me being a rather ineffective human being in any other way (much to my children and husband’s dismay), I usually sacrifice sleep until I get the story out of my head. 

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

I prefer to work on one at a time. But I can switch between projects if I need to—for example, I’m in the middle of my contract, so I’m promoting DEFY, while I’m in revisions on the sequel, and drafting another book, and revising a completely different project all at once. That’s always fun. 

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

Well, I’ve been writing ever since I could use a pencil to write words down on paper (I have notebooks from second grade with stories in them), and I’ve written books ever since. So I can’t say that I had any fears the first time I sat down to write, because I honestly don’t remember it! But I’ve had plenty ever since I started seriously pursuing publication years and years ago. And even after getting a book deal, the fears haven’t gone away. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. I’ve never had worse writer’s block than I got on my sequel to DEFY, for fear that my agent, editor, and future readers wouldn’t like it. But I just had to shut that internal critic off (or tell it that even if this book sucks, I have to at least get it out and then I can fix it), and just push through. And surprisingly, when I went back through the book, it didn’t suck quite as bad as I thought when I was writing it. In fact, I completely loved it. And my editor did too, so phew! ;-) 

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

Uh… do I need to count all the books I’ve ever written? Let’s just start from when I started trying to get published. I wrote four books before I nabbed my first agent. I was with her for two years, and while she is a lovely person whom I still count as a friend, ultimately we parted ways, because we weren’t the best match professionally. During those two years, I wrote another book and did a major revision of two other books (one was basically a rewrite). Once we parted ways, I started querying one of the rewrites, and in the meantime I got hit with two ideas very close together. I started both books, but decided to finish only one of them. I got super close to a few different offers, but nothing ended up coming through, so I went back to the other idea. I’d hit a major block with that book, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. Once I finally figured out that one them was hiding a major secret from me, the rest of the book flew out and I finished it in just a couple of weeks. That was in August. I polished and revised it and started querying it on a Monday in October, got a request for a full Tuesday night and received an offer on it the next day before lunch!! It was crazy. I ended up with more than one offer and within a couple of weeks I was on sub and a month later I had my deal with Scholastic! (Yes, that book was DEFY!) 

So, uh, how many books was that? I think that was a really long answer to what should have been an easy question. Ha. I always joke that I don’t know how to tell short stories, and that’s why I write books. 

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

The closest I ever came was with DEFY, when I’d hit that horrible block and I’d left my agent and hadn’t gotten a new one yet. But thank heavens I didn’t let myself quit and figured that story out! 

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

My agent is Josh Adams, and even though I’d been agented before and have lots of author friends, he was neither a referral nor a contact. I cold queried him. In fact, the offers I got on DEFY were all from cold queries. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

With my first agent, between all the books I wrote a queried, I probably sent out over 200. Maybe even 300. I stopped counting a long time ago. With DEFY, I’d just barely started querying, so I only had fifteen queries out when I got my offers and made my choice. 

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

DON’T GIVE UP. Everyone told me if I didn’t give up, eventually I’d make it. I’ll admit after years of writing and querying, and hundreds of rejections I was losing faith. But I knew I couldn’t quit; it was my life-long dream and I couldn’t give up on it. So I kept going, and it turned out everyone was right. Also, this might sound dumb, but exercise. Get out and do something with your body. Those endorphins helped me fight through the lows of rejections. And it just feels good to be able to push yourself to do something that you have total control over. Also, chocolate. Lots of chocolate. ☺

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

I haven’t seen it yet, DEFY is on sale January 7, but I can imagine it will be an overwhelming combination of excitement, disbelief, elation, and a whole bunch of everything. And I’ll probably cry. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

None! My editor sent me the cover one day out of the blue, and I loved it so much I screamed and jumped up and down (and totally scared my kids to death)!

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

How amazing it has been to work with an editor. I knew it would be have to be great, because he or she would love my book enough to buy it; but there was always a fear that they’d want me to change major things or not “get” my stories. I feel so incredibly lucky to have Lisa Sandell—she’s been absolutely incredible to work with. Her insights have helped me shape my book into the best it can possibly be. The collaborative process has been way more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve been (very pleasantly) surprised to not have only gained an absolutely brilliant partner in my writing career, but also a dear friend. 

How much of your own marketing do you?

I try to do as much as I can without feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t find the creative energy to still write and to be able to still take care of my family and personal life. I do have a blog and I’m working on setting up an actual website. Hopefully soon! I am also on Facebook and Twittter.

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

It depends on the person and their book. I’m not really an expert on platforms. I just try to do what feels natural to me. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think social media can help, but ultimately, it’s going to depend on your book, and the readers that love it and tell their friends and family. I’ve seen people with huge followings have books that didn’t do nearly as well as expected, and people who aren’t even on social media become bestsellers. I’ve also seen the opposite. So you just never know, I guess. That’s why I think you should only do what you’re happy and comfortable with. And focus on what you CAN control: writing the best book you know how. 

Thanks so much for having me!

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Book Up My Sleeve, Or - What's This IN A HANDFUL OF DUST Thing With Your Name On It?

I thought it fitting to make my first 2014 post about my 2014 release, titled IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. A lot of people have been asking me about it since the Amazon and Goodreads listings went up on New Year's Eve, and I'm honestly flattered that someone other than my blood relations even noticed.

To be fair, I actually pointed it out to my blood relations. So bonus points to those of you who found it on your own.

So what's it about? I don't have official flap copy (the words on the back, or the inside dust jacket) yet, so I'm not sure what's fair game to divulge and what's not. I also can't share the cover, but don't worry all will be clear soon. Quite soon. I'll keep you in the loop.

A lot of people are asking if it's a sequel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a fair question if you know anything about poetry.

No, it's not.

Some of you may have just had a feeling of elation, some of you may have just punched your computer. I know the conflicted feelings when it comes to books that don't need sequels and get one anyway, so trust me that as a lifelong reader I'm on your side.

But I also know what it's like to leave behind fictional people that you've come to care about dearly, and to be terrified that you won't be hearing from them again.

So, no worries.

One of the things I admired most when I read Kristin Cashore's GRACELING was the fact that this world was so big and we had only explored a small part of it, yet hints had been dropped about other facets we hadn't been able to glimpse. FIRE took us to those places, and BITTERBLUE did a great job of showing us even more development.

So... that's my teaser for IN A HANDFUL OF DUST.

Also, here's a lovely quote from TS Eliot's The Waste Land to get you thinking, wherein you'll find my title source:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy New Year! NOT A DROP TO DRINK is the Kindle Daily Deal Today Only $1.99

Happy New Year, my readers!

Celebrate with NOT A DROP TO DRINK is the Kindle Daily Deal, $1.99 Today Only!


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.

SWORDS & CINDER is a fairytale retell, twisting “Cinderella” with the television show, “Supernatural.” Owen has lost everything from his past—his parents, his home, his memory. His only connection to his identity is his father’s pocket watch. Abandoned by Sir Drake, Having a name in here that you might not need again is potentially confusing, just say "abandoned by his foster father" Owen’s foster father, Lady Madelyn enslaves Owen and renames him Cinderfella. Desperate, Owen seeks solace in the woods, finding friendship and danger. Waiting in the night are monstrous creatures, hidden beneath cloaks of darkness—called shadows. His savior is a spirit warrior, named Stranger, covered in gruesome scars. Stranger’s sword dissolves the creatures into cinder. Protected by daylight, Cinderfella befriends a pretty girl, Violet, and shares his pocket watch with her. Like, he shows it to her, or they both use it to tell time occasionally? Also, if Violet is not an important character you shouldn't mention her here in the query, the same with Stranger. 

Four years later, Cinderfella’s destiny collides with his present. A dying spirit warrior surrenders his sword to Cinderfella, and the castle hosts a masked ball in honor of Princess Charlotte. You make it sound like these two things are immediately related, but I'm not seeing how? When Cinderfella is forbidden to attend, like he's specifically personally not allowed to attend? Or just, he's a commoner and so he can't go? a cloaked man, identifying himself as Cinderfella’s godfather, transforms him into a prince—and his pocket watch into glass—and sends him off to win the princess. But Cinderfella is stunned to discover Princess Charlotte is his childhood friend, Violet. Heartbroken, knowing he is unworthy of the princess, I don't get why this would bum him out - quite the opposite I feel like he'd be totally thrilled. Cinderfella leaves his pocket watch for her to remember him. That pocket watch reunites the couple and leads them in the middle of a war, between spirits and shadows, knights and assassins. Unclear on who the war is between and why, and where the two fit into it. Is the castle warring against the shadows and the assassins, and therefore aren't Cinderfella and Charlotte on the same side, just fighting from different arenas?

Owen must accept he is not Cinderfella, but Owen, son of Sir Stephen of Brackenridge, and his godfather has a plan—a plan to destroy everyone Owen loves. Why would his Godfather want to destroy everyone he loves? What's to gain? If he's supposed to win the heart of the princess, and the princess is Violet, and he cares for Violet, why would the godfather want her destroyed? Confused about whether or no the godfather is good or bad. With the help of the Knights of the New Moon, their leader—Drake, and Stranger, So his stepfather is back in the mix now? Owen must use his sword to defeat the shadows, protect the princess, and destroy the greatest evil their kingdom has ever faced.

There's a lot going on here that you need to clarify. Specifically who is on what side, and who is good / bad. Also, it raises a lot of questions about his stepfather's relationship when he's abandoning him at the beginning, then returning to fight on his side at the end. This might be explained in the ms itself, but within the query this level of detail leads to confusion. Trim down the references that you don't need within the query in order to get the main point across.